Lyme Disease Diagnosis
Lyme disease, like fibromyalgia, is a very difficult disease to diagnose and is more than challenging to treat. Many individuals who have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) in fact have Lyme disease or one of the many co-infections that can be deposited at the same time as the initial infection. A tick-borne illness, which is what Lyme disease is, can be accompanied with co-infections that can worsen over time and each individual illness must be diagnosed separately from the other. This means myriad testing and conclusive diagnoses to ensure treatment is appropriate and effective.
According to Debbie Siciliano, co-president of Time for Lyme, a Greenwich, CT based Lyme disease advocacy and education group, “For most patients, the initial Lyme disease diagnosis is overwhelming and the primary focus is naturally on treating it effectively.” Dr. David Cameron, president of ILADS (International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society), adds that “the ticks that transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease also carry numerous other pathogens that can complicate the treatment and management of the primary infection and lead to a longer-lasting, more devastating illness.” Dr. Cameron stresses the importance for new patients to request testing for the three most common Lyme disease co-infections:
· Babesiosis and Erlichiosis (HME or HCE)
· Both parasitic infections
· Bartonellosis, and infection caused by bacteria called Bartonella
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is an infectious disease that is caused by a corkscrew shaped bacteria called spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi) and is transmitted by the bite of a deer tick (Ixodes tick). The tick is a parasite, living off the blood of other animals and, since it carries and transmits bacterium from one animal to another, it is also referred to as a vector or carrier. Most prevalent in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and in Northern California and Oregon, in the US, it has made its way into almost all of the US (and Canada). It continues to be spread through migratory birds, deer overpopulation, and reforestation – a factor that brings ticks right into your own yard.
There are over 100 strains of the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. One single tick bite can not only infect a person with Lyme disease, it can also transmit the co-infections named above. If a diagnosis and adequate treatment are received early enough, the risk of suffering long term illness is reduced. Unfortunately, the sad track record is that often Lyme disease is not diagnosed in time, or not diagnosed properly and as the symptoms become embedded, the disease is misdiagnosed – often as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, because the symptoms of both diseases are so similar.
Lyme Disease and Co-Infections
Symptoms of Lyme disease are complex, just as the symptoms of fibromyalgia are also complex and confusing. When Lyme co-infections are introduced to the mix, the diagnosis and treatment become even more difficult. The symptoms of the co-infections are non-specific; fever and chills; headaches and malaise. The testing often comes back negative because the parasites and bacteria that are the causes of the infections are only detectable in the bloodstream for a short time. For this reason, it is imperative that a person have the additional testing for co-infection done at the same time as the initial diagnosis, when it is most likely an accurate diagnosis can be made.
There are theories that Lyme disease eventually manifests as fibromyalgia when it is left until it is in the chronic state. When you compare the symptoms of fibromyalgia with Lyme disease, you can see how easily that can happen. And, since fibromyalgia is a clinical syndrome, not a disease, testing has been slow in developing. Today, there are potential markers in the blood that can indicate a possibility of FMS being a genetic illness – but those markers are still in the research stage.
The speculation that numbers of people who have been diagnosed with FMS are really suffering with Lyme disease or a co-infection is strong. The blood tests for Lyme disease are often inconclusive and it requires attention by doctors who are well versed in Lyme disease to be able to get a clear diagnosis and treatment. More people are beginning to challenge the fibromyalgia diagnosis, especially when they recall having been bitten by a tick – even 25 years ago. Don’t settle for a diagnosis until you’ve been properly and adequately tested for Lyme disease. You may be treating the wrong illness.
Learn more about FMS, the symptoms, treatments, and research on this site.