You may be wondering what Lyme disease has to do with fibromyalgia, but in fact, the two have more in common than you might first realize. Though very different diseases, both Lyme disease and fibromyalgia have very similar symptoms. As a result, many patients complaining of fibromyalgia symptoms are misdiagnosed with Lyme disease. This can lead to improper treatment and serious health problems. If you are experiencing symptoms of widespread pain, muscle stiffness, and fatigue it is important for you to get tested and diagnosed by a number of health care professionals in order to rule out Lyme disease.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacterium borrelia burgdorferia, which is transmitted to animals and humans by ticks. Lyme disease can cause a host of different symptoms because it affects a number of different systems within your body, including your heart, brain, and musculoskeletal systems. More than 23,000 cases of Lyme disease were reported in the United States in 2002, and unfortunately, this number has been increasing steadily. Lyme disease can be successfully treated, but if it is not caught early, treatment does become less effective.
Ticks and Transmission
Lyme disease is passed to humans and animals through ticks, which are small bugs that live in forested and grassy areas. Ticks are actually a member of the arachnid family, meaning that they are related to the spider and scorpion. Ticks survive by feeding on the blood of animals. They attach themselves to your skin until they become saturated with blood and fall off.
There are hundreds of different kinds of ticks, but not all are responsible for carrying Lyme disease. It is only the black-legged ticks, commonly called deer ticks, that transmit the disease. When these ticks attach to your skin and begin to feed they can pass the Lyme bacteria into your bloodstream.
Lyme Disease and Fibromyalgia
Unfortunately, because their symptoms are so similar, Lyme disease and fibromyalgia are often confused for one another. Many people with Lyme disease suffer the same widespread pain and tender points as fibromyalgia sufferers do. There is a diagnostic test for lyme disease, but it often produces false positive or false negative results. Consequently, many patients are left suffering for prolonged periods of time.
It is thought that between 15% and 50% of those patients diagnosed with Lyme disease actually have fibromyalgia. It is important that you be tested for Lyme disease using a variety of different diagnostic tests, in order to rule out this disease. Long-term antibiotic treatment can result in serious side effects, and won’t do anything for your fibromyalgia symptoms.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
If you have been in tick-infested areas, it is important to be able to recognize the symptoms of Lyme disease. If you have fibromyalgia, it is also important to be aware of the few distinguishing Lyme disease symptoms. This will help to ensure that you aren’t misdiagnosed with Lyme disease.
Local Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Local or early symptoms of Lyme disease are those that occur within the first two months of infection. They are typically mild and many people mistake the symptoms for the flu, making diagnosis difficult. These Lyme disease symptoms include:
- The presence of a spreading red skin rash around the site of your tick bite. This Lyme disease rash appears within 3 and 30 days of infection; however, it only appears in 60% to 80% of those infected with the disease.
- low fever
- slight headache
- muscle and joint ache
Disseminated Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Disseminated Lyme disease symptoms occur after eight weeks of infection. These symptoms result from the bacteria’s invasion of widespread areas of the body. Symptoms include:
- severe headache
- severe muscle and joint pain
- heart palpitations
- neurological problems including memory loss, difficulty speaking, difficulty concentrating, and paralysis of the face (Bell’s Palsy)
Treatment for Lyme Disease
Lyme disease treatment can be effective, especially when caught within 8 weeks of infection. More serious cases may never be eliminated completely. A four-week course of oral antibiotics is given for those suffering from the early stages of Lyme disease. Commonly used antibiotics include doxycyclin and amoxicillin. Intravenous antibiotics, like ceftrioxone, are administered for more advanced cases.
Lyme disease does become chronic in about 5% of cases. Chronic lyme disease, called post Lyme disease, does not respond well to treatment and can lie dormant in your body for years. People with post Lyme disease can suffer from recurrent symptom outbreaks for many years.
Lyme Disease Prevention
In order to avoid getting Lyme disease, your best solution is to avoid contact with ticks or tick-infested areas. If you are going to be in areas where ticks are breeding:
- Wear long sleeves and long pants
- Tuck your pants into your socks
- Use tick repellent
- Keep your pets inside
- Check yourself every 24 hours for ticks. Remove any ticks you find and keep them in a glass jar for testing.