Because Lyme disease shares many symptoms with other medical conditions, patients are often misdiagnosed with other diseases. With incorrect diagnoses of ailments like multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression, many people with Lyme disease do not receive the proper treatment they need to get better. This can be even more detrimental to the patient’s health because their Lyme disease symptoms can actually get progressively worse without the appropriate treatment protocol. Here’s a look at the five symptoms of Lyme disease that most often get misdiagnosed.
Severe and unexplainable fatigue is often a symptom of Lyme disease. Patients describe getting exhausted doing typically easy activities and can experience a tired feeling that is almost constant. No matter what they do, they just can’t seem to get enough energy to get through the day. Even a restful night’s sleep or a nap seems to make little difference. This relentless fatigue can often be cyclical and can change in its severity every couple of weeks. It’s common for Lyme disease patients to get misdiagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) because this condition is applied when doctors can find no other medical reason for the fatigue. Symptoms of fatigue can also be misattributed to multiple sclerosis, which is often diagnosed when all other possible diseases have been ruled out.
2. Joint pain
Lyme disease patients often experience joint pain after contracting the condition. They might also have joint stiffness and inflamed, painful, or swollen joints as well. Because of this symptom, Lyme disease patients may get misdiagnosed with arthritis (which can also affect more than one joint in the body). Doctors can run blood tests to determine if the patient is truly suffering from arthritis. However, for doctors that aren’t thinking about Lyme disease as a possible diagnosis, they might just say it’s arthritis without doing a full workup. It can be helpful to remind doctors of the need for ruling out other conditions and finding a proper diagnosis if Lyme disease could be a possibility. For Lyme patients, there may also be a limited range of motion in some joints, and the pain might move around the body (one day the knees, the next the neck, etc.). Typically, the large joints provide the biggest problems for Lyme disease patients.
3. Flu-like symptoms
Some people with Lyme disease have flu-like symptoms after they’ve contracted Lyme. This can look like headaches, dizziness, low-grade fevers, muscle pain, and general feelings of malaise. About half of these people will experience these symptoms within the first week of infection. Individuals may brush off the need to see a doctor if they think they might just be suffering from the common flu or a virus. However, Lyme symptoms differ because they can come and go and are not always persistent. If these symptoms are present along with any other ones on this list, patients should consult their doctor instead of assuming they just have the flu.
4. Cognitive decline
Patients who are having symptoms of cognitive decline are often misdiagnosed with conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s, when in fact, they’re suffering from Lyme disease. These symptoms can include things like difficulty concentrating, lapses in memory, or periods of confusion. It can become quite difficult for people with these cognitive symptoms to complete everyday tasks that were once very easy for them. Cognitive difficulties can be extremely unsettling to endure since the patient can get frustrated doing small tasks or confused by new places and people. These cognitive issues can also present as irritability or anxiety. Doctors can run some tests (including brain imaging scans) to help determine if Alzheimer’s is at play or if the patient could potentially be suffering from Lyme disease.
Depression is a very common symptom of Lyme disease that is often misdiagnosed. People with Lyme disease can often experience significant changes in their mood, which can manifest itself as a depressed state. They can report feeling a lack of motivation, less enjoyment from activities they used to like, sadness, and hopelessness. These are all aspects that could apply to a classic case of depression. So, it’s easy to see why some doctors would immediately jump to diagnose a low mood level as simply depression, and not something more complicated like Lyme disease. It can also be a tad tricky because individuals with Lyme disease can experience typical depression along with their diagnosis. This can be because of the struggle of living with a medical condition that leads to feelings of sadness and hopelessness. The best option is for the patient to get evaluated to see if they do have Lyme disease, and subsequently, their symptoms of depression can also be addressed.
Because Lyme disease can be a complicated condition, it’s pretty typical for these above-mentioned symptoms to result in possible misdiagnoses. Patients should make sure they’ve gotten a full workup from their doctor, have shared each of their symptoms and their severity, and have discussed the possibility of a Lyme disease diagnosis with all medical professionals involved with their case.