Cases of Lyme disease that go undetected and untreated can end up wreaking havoc on a person’s health. There can be more severe symptoms that greatly impact someone’s ability to get treatment and to recover. Here are six common reasons why Lyme disease can go untreated.
1. It’s not always possible to confirm a tick bite
Because Lyme disease is contracted through ticks, some people are immediately able to realize they’ve been bitten and can head straight to their doctor for treatment. However, many tick bites go completely unnoticed. This is because ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, making them difficult to spot. Ticks also tend to latch onto parts of the body such as the armpits, groin, or scalp, which makes them nearly impossible to see. This means that you might not realize you’ve been bitten. Since symptoms can crop up anywhere from a few days to a few weeks later, you could completely miss the tick appearing on your body. Because tick bites aren’t always confirmed, someone might not be aware that they’ve contracted Lyme disease until much later.
2. Lyme disease can be confused with other illnesses
Lyme disease affects many parts of the body and can cause myriad serious (often debilitating) symptoms, ranging from headaches and chronic joint pain to extreme fatigue and mood disorders. With initial symptoms of fever, chills, and joint aches, doctors often misdiagnose Lyme disease patients as having the flu or a viral or bacterial infection. Without treatment, Lyme disease can cause increasingly destructive effects on the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Therefore, doctors often diagnose their Lyme disease patients with conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or depression because the symptoms are so similar. Individuals who have chronic Lyme disease can develop a sustained inflammatory condition that affects the nervous system called Central Sensitization Syndrome (CSS). This condition is also diagnosed in people who have chronic illness and pain, much like Lyme disease. It’s essential that doctors rule out Lyme disease before coming up with a set diagnosis.
3. Patients might have co-infections
Properly diagnosing Lyme disease can also be complicated by the fact that some patients can have co-infections. Because ticks can carry multiple types of bacteria and parasites (including babesiosis, anaplasmosis, Bartonella, and more), it’s fairly common for patients to have more than one tick-borne infection occurring at a time. In fact, one study indicated that nearly 30% of ticks carrying Lyme also carry another infectious element. While these other infections can have similar symptoms to Lyme disease, they can require different treatments and antibiotics. So it’s crucial that doctors test for all types of tick-borne diseases, along with Lyme.
4. Hard to get a definitive diagnosis
Doctors will need to put in some work in order to get their patient a clear and definitive diagnosis of Lyme disease. In order to not misdiagnose, they’ll need to do a physical exam and lab tests. These tests are used to identify antibodies in the bacteria to either confirm or rule out Lyme disease. The tests are usually conducted a few weeks after the onset of the infection. The most common test used to detect Lyme disease is the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test. Although this test can be helpful, it can sometimes have false-positive results, so it can’t be used solely to diagnose Lyme. There’s also the Western blot test, which is generally used to confirm a diagnosis after a positive ELISA test. Because there are several steps to the testing process, it can be difficult to pin down Lyme disease as a diagnosis right away.
5. People unfamiliar with Lyme disease
The condition can go undetected because it is not an entirely well-known disease. Much of the public is not educated about the dangers of tick bites, what to look for if they’ve been bitten, or what treatment course to pursue. Because there isn’t a lot of familiarity with the condition, it can lead to people getting misdiagnosed or judged by family and friends who aren’t educated about the nature of Lyme disease. More general knowledge about tick bites and tick-borne illnesses would be helpful in informing the public about how to keep themselves and their families safe.
6. Some doctors don’t acknowledge it as a diagnosis
Because there are some medical professionals who don’t acknowledge Lyme disease as a true condition, getting treatment has become a controversial issue for many people with tick-borne illnesses. More physicians need to be better informed about an illness that is affecting so many people in the US. There are many patients who have stories about getting misdiagnosed or having unsupportive doctors unwilling to consider Lyme disease as a diagnosis. The key is for patients to get a second opinion if the physician they’re seeing is uneducated about the dangers of tick-borne illnesses.
Hopefully, with more time, people throughout the U.S. will become better informed about Lyme disease. Individuals will have more knowledge about how to prevent tick bites and how to get help if they think they’ve contracted Lyme. In turn, doctors will also need to continue to gain an improved understanding of how this condition works and how they can offer better treatment options to get their patients on the road to recovery. With these steps, it’s possible that Lyme disease won’t go undetected in the future.