Our collective knowledge surrounding Lyme disease is something like an inverse funnel. We know a lot about how it is spread and contracted, but as the disease progresses, our understanding of it dissipates. One of the continuing problems we encounter is diagnosis. These are muddy waters, as Lyme exists in two very distinct forms: acute, which is legitimately recognized and lasts a number of weeks; and chronic, a far more malleable disorder that often mimics the symptoms of other diseases. Chronic Lyme is generally not acknowledged as a legitimate disorder, leaving patients and doctors undereducated about its symptoms and presentation. Diagnosis, therefore, is a major problem. This leads people who understand Lyme disease to wonder if it’s possible to test themselves for the disorder.
How Do You Know If You Have Lyme Disease?
The answer to the question “Can I test myself for Lyme disease?” must be answered in two distinct parts. Diagnostic methods for both acute and chronic Lyme disease are very different, with the latter being a lot more problematic than the former. First, the good news: acute Lyme disease is relatively easy to self-diagnose in most cases, at least in theory. Lyme is spread through the saliva of ticks, which transfer the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria to the bloodstreams of their human hosts. The acute stage of the disease begins soon after a bite; symptoms similar to the flu appear, although they are not always severe. But the critical symptom for patients is the distinctive bullseye rash that appears at the site of the bite. This takes the form of a circle inside a larger circle, and is one of the prime signs of Lyme disease. If you find this, you can almost assuredly self-diagnose Lyme, although of course you should also see a doctor right away with your concerns.
The Problem With Diagnosing Chronic Lyme
Unfortunately, ticks don’t always bite people out in the open, and if a bite goes unnoticed, then a patient might not register or even look for the bullseye rash. Without this key symptom, it’s all too easy to write Lyme disease off as a bout of flu. This is where the problems start. The flu symptoms resolve after a few weeks, leaving the patient thinking that they are recovering. But in fact, the disease is only changing form and will soon reappear as chronic Lyme, bringing with it a whole new set of symptoms.
The problem with diagnosing chronic Lyme is twofold. First of all, the disease is not considered legitimate by many medical professionals, meaning that doctors don’t often consider it right away. Secondly, compounding matters is the fact that chronic Lyme symptoms are often generalized and mimic the symptoms of other, more prominent, chronic diseases.
Chronic Lyme is often hard to diagnose because there is no consistency between the symptoms from patient to patient. In other words, there is no diagnostic blueprint to follow. Unlike acute Lyme, which is comprised of infection symptoms only, chronic Lyme manifests as an interplay between infection and inflammation symptoms. When faced with the long-term infection that is Lyme disease, the body’s immune system overcompensates as it tries to fight back. The result is widespread inflammation of the joints, general and localized pain, difficulty moving, and constant fatigue. On the other hand, depending on where the bacteria have infiltrated, a patient might experience continuing inflammation symptoms including neurological issues, digestive complaints, and cardiac problems.
Self-Test for Lyme Disease
Unfortunately, there is no way to reliably test yourself for chronic Lyme disease. Even more regrettably, the main blood test used to diagnose Lyme (the ELISpot) often returns false negatives, especially if the patient is experiencing high volumes of inflammation symptoms with little trace of infection. So even after your doctor finally considers Lyme as a possible cause, the diagnostic process can still backfire and return a false negative.
Efforts are underway to remedy this persistent problem, most notably from Lyme specialists at institutions like Infectolab and BCA-clinic. These labs recently aided in the development of a new ELISpot test, which takes into account the disease’s propensity for chronic inflammation and immune deficiency. Although this is a great leap forward that should be rightly applauded, the unfortunate reality is that there are just not enough Lyme-literate doctors out there. Many patients all over the world are continually left frustrated and confused.
Treating Chronic Lyme
Treating chronic Lyme disease is no easy task, and must constitute a multi-pronged approach. The dominant infection has to be completely eradicated with the use of antibiotics, while the inflammation symptoms are best tackled by a robust nutritional plan and natural supplements. In addition, any present co-infections (infections transferred simultaneously with Lyme from the original tick) need to be identified and tackled.
As with many diseases, the best time to see a doctor is as early as possible. If you notice you have been bitten by a tick and you get sick shortly after, or if you discover the distinctive bullseye rash anywhere on your body, seek medical help as soon as you can. Always remember that Lyme is easily treated if it is caught in its acute stage. If it’s given the chance to expand to chronic Lyme, though, the road to recovery is much longer and tougher.