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What Is Lyme Disease?

You may have seen singer Avril Lavigne’s recent media appearances discussing her experience with Lyme disease.  What is this mysterious illness, and how can you tell if you have it?

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
Episode #192

Diagnosis of Lyme Disease

Testing for the antibodies for Lyme is recommended when suspecting the disease; this means testing for those proteins that the immune system produces in order to fight off the bug. These include IgGs, which are the antibodies that remain positive for prior infections (often termed “memory” antibodies, since the body remembers it long term via these proteins), and IgMs, which are only produced in an acute and current infection.

Unfortunately, false-positive testing has been reported for Lyme disease, and therefore the blood test alone is not enough to diagnose the disease.  According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the guidelines also require the following three:

·         Recent travel to an endemic area

·         Risk factor for exposure to ticks, specifically

·         And very specific symptoms of Lyme disease:  to include symptoms due to meningitis, nerve pain, cranial nerve palsy, unusual swelling of the joints/arthritis, or symptoms due to inflammation of the heart

Here’s the KEY take-home point:  non-specific symptoms (such as fatigue, body aches, headaches, etc), plus a Lyme disease positive antibody testing is NOT sufficient to fulfill a true diagnosis of Lyme disease.  Lyme disease is NOT a “diagnosis of exclusion," which means it “must” be Lyme since all other testing is normal. 

Treatment of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is treated with the following 3 first-line antibiotics, for anywhere between 10 to 21 days:

·         Doxycycline

·         Amoxicillin

·         Cefuroxime

Another controversial phase after treatment termed “post-Lyme disease syndrome” is also reported to linger for up to 6 months to 1 year after treatment, with continued symptoms of fatigue, headaches, and joint pain.

The tricky part about this phase is that these non-specific symptoms can be attributable to numerous other medical conditions. It’s a very small percentage of patients thought to experience Lyme disease chronically after treatment, and is not due to active infection by no means. To give you an example, the more common stress, depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, autoimmune-disorders, and illicit drug or alcohol abuse can also cause fatigue, body aches, and/or headaches.  Sometimes, it can be quite a challenge to tease it all out and blame Lyme disease for everything little symptom.

My advice is to find a well-respected physician in your community that has extra knowledge and expertise in Lyme disease and your symptoms, in order to find an accurate diagnosis.

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Well, thanks again for listening to this episode of the House Call Doctor. If you have any future topic suggestions, you can email me at housecalldoctor@quickanddirtytips.com. Have a healthy week!

Please not that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health care provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related issues.

Lyme disease image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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