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: Shar, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: July 17

I started out with a headache which progressed to a stiff neck and all over achiness. Then I developed a fever of 104. I went to the emergency room (ER), they did a spinal tap and head CT which were both negative. They said it was just some sort of viral infection and would just run its course. I went back to the ER 30 hours later with an even more severe headache, fever and very tired. I heard the same thing, just a viral infection. Saw my primary care physician two days later and that's when the rash appeared on my groin and Lyme disease was diagnosed. Now I'm being treated with 3 weeks of doxycycline. I'm hoping to feel better soon. Never felt this bad in all my life.

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Comment from: tini, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: September 10

I had a deer tick on me for two days, but the university that identified it advised me not to get it tested and I did not. I had the prophylactic 200 mg dose one time, and about 4 weeks later developed fatigue, dizziness/vertigo, and twitching eyebrow. The doctor diagnosed benign positional vertigo (BPV). Then three weeks later I had severe vertigo with vomiting for two weeks, then my eyes started twitching, and my face went numb; the doctor's office thought it was an inner ear problem and advised a nasal spray. I had had two negative Lyme tests. I went to an herbalist and that helped with the numbness and I got a really red rash from the herbs. Finally it went to my knees at the third month, and I got the tick DNA tested, positive result, I knew once it was in my knees. I fought my doctor for antibiotics.

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