Lyme Disease - Diagnosis

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How do health-care professionals diagnose Lyme disease?

In early Lyme disease, doctors can sometimes make a diagnosis simply by finding the classic red rash (described above), particularly in people who have recently been in regions in which Lyme disease is common. The doctor might review the patient's history and examine the patient in order to exclude diseases with similar findings in the joints, heart, and nervous system.

Blood testing for antibodies to Lyme bacteria is generally not necessary or helpful in early stage disease, but it can help in diagnosis in later stages. (Antibodies are produced by the body to attack the bacteria and can be evidence of exposure to the bacteria. These antibodies can be detected using a laboratory method called an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay [ELISA].) Antibodies, however, can be false indicators of disease, since they can persist for years after the disease is cured. Moreover, false-positive tests in patients with nonspecific findings (those that are not specifically suggestive of Lyme disease) can lead to confusion. Currently, the confirmatory test that is most reliable is the Western Blot assay antibody test. More accurate tests are being developed.

Generally, Lyme blood testing is helpful in a patient who has symptoms compatible with Lyme disease, who has a history of a tick bite at least a month prior, or who has unexplained disorders of the heart, joints, or nervous system that are characteristic of Lyme disease.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: abc, 25-34 Female (Patient) Published: October 24

I was disoriented, and ended up in the emergency room. After a quick complete blood count test and urine analysis, they transferred me to a psychiatric unit. I was discharged after a few days, but shortly after began falling, vomiting, etc. I saw a doctor to get answers who tested for Lyme disease and several others. For some reason the elevated Lyme antibodies results were overlooked. I went to the infectious disease section for answers, and they suggested based on my symptoms, that I had encephalitis. He asked for a copy of all laboratory reports, but only saw the negative western blot, and not the antibodies. I continued having muscle weakness and headaches, which progressed to dizziness, poor memory and generalized weakness. I needed answers and went to a holistic doctor who said I have Lyme disease. I looked back at old laboratory reports and noted the elevated Lyme antibodies from 7 months before and faxed them back to both doctors who repeated the tests and I finally got a diagnosis!

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Comment from: nickbarkley, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: March 04

I became violently ill, very high heartbeat, they found mitral valve prolapse. My tongue turned colors as did my fingernails. I could not keep food down, poured sweat day and night lost weight would have died. I got treatment for Lyme disease because I had bull's eye on the left side and red rings all over top of right thigh; 16 years later I am disabled in spite of 9 years treatment.

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