Lyme Disease symptoms have got to be among the most misdiagnosed symptoms in medical history.

Tick in tweezers and jar

Lyme Disease Diagnosis Is Difficult to Confirm

Admittedly, physicians are more likely than ever to diagnose LD correctly (which may explain the recent increase in incident reports), but the sad fact is, most LD patients will tell you that their doctors misdiagnosed them many times before getting it right. Some LD sufferers never receive an accurate diagnosis.

Why is that?

Actually, the explanation is fairly simple: Lyme Disease is a mimic. Its symptoms are so diverse, and so similar to the symptoms of other illnesses, that it’s just hard to identify. Worse, the diagnostic tests aren’t particularly diagnostic.

The Pathogen

Lyme Disease is caused by a spirochete bacterium known as Borrelia burgdorferi. While it’s never a good idea to ascribe intelligent motives to microbes, the truth is that Borrelia is very good at hiding.

The bacteria often congregate not in the bloodstream, but in hard-to-reach places: the brain, spinal fluid, and solid body tissues. It doesn’t take many to make you ill, either. For both reasons, they can be hard to find and culture, a process which is often required for a solid diagnosis.

Given these factors, and the fact that your natural defenses may be wrapped up in fighting the spirochetes directly, there may not even be any antigens against Borrelia present in your bloodstream — especially early in the infectious stage. This can cause diagnostic tests to return false positives, delaying diagnosis.

Lyme Arthritis

Aside from the erythema migrans (EM) rash, which isn’t always diagnostic because it can be atypical, Lyme-related arthritis is probably the most obvious LD symptom. The joints swell and become stiff, red and painful, and sometimes fluid builds up on one or more of the affected joints.

Unfortunately, regular arthritis and various other diseases, both common and exotic, cause the same suite of symptoms. Gout, scleroderma, and auto-immune disorders such as lupus all have arthritic symptoms in common with LD, and arthritis can be secondary to many other ailments as well.

It makes sense, then that many doctors will look to other causes besides LD first, especially if the patient is middle-aged or older.

The Flu-Like Symptoms

Many Lyme Disease patients also present with a suite of symptoms very like those of the flu, including muscle aches, joint pain, and headaches. This can mask an LD infection, especially if there’s a bug going around; and even if you have an LD test done, it may come back negative if the infection is new.

These symptoms make diagnosing Lyme Disease all the more difficult because they’re common to other viral infections as well, in conjunction with associated symptoms like a stiff neck and vomiting. For example, mononucleosis and some forms of meningitis present with most or all of these symptoms.

Neurological Symptoms

Unfortunately, LD can also strike the central nervous system, producing a bewildering variety of neurological symptoms. Some are as subtle as mood changes or an inability to sleep; others may be more obvious, including excessive fatigue, visual loss, speech difficulty, and partial facial paralysis.

Once again, many other things can cause all these symptoms; some of the causes can even be psychological rather than organic. Neurological symptoms, especially the subtler ones, are often extremely difficult to diagnose in any case.

Your Best Bet

If you think you may have LD, don’t give up. Keep track of your symptoms, find sympathetic caregivers, and have multiple tests done. If you can prove that multiple Lyme Disease symptoms are present in your case, you’re much more likely to get a fair hearing — and ultimately, the proper diagnosis.


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