Understanding Lyme Disease as the Great Imitator

For most adults and children, getting a tick bite is not a concerning experience. However, the increase in the number of cases of Lyme Disease throughout the world over the last several years has brought tick bites into the spotlight. In the UK, there are an estimated 1,000 cases of Lyme Disease diagnosed each year, although the actual number of individuals with the condition may be far higher. Lyme Disease is not a mandatory reportable condition, so many medical professionals and patient advocates suggest the disease is far more prevalent than recent statistics state.

While Lyme Disease is treatable, adults and children have a far better opportunity to champion symptoms of the condition when early intervention takes place. The reality is that Lyme Disease is known as the Great Imitator, meaning its symptoms mimic several other health conditions that are more widely known. To ensure those who may have the disease get the right diagnosis and treatment promptly, it is beneficial to understand what Lyme Disease is and what steps can be taken to avoid misdiagnosis in the first place.

Lyme disease
Lyme disease

What is Lyme Disease?

As a tick-borne illness, Lyme Disease can be contracted by any child or adult through a tick bite. The insect must be carrying the disease when the bite takes place, and those who have prolonged tick attachment to the skin may be more likely to contract the condition after the bite. Ticks that carry Lyme Disease can be found in either rural or suburban areas, and those with pets may be more prone to getting a tick bite that ultimately leads to the condition. Regardless of age, health status, or previous medical history, Lyme Disease can impact anyone’s life.

One of the more frustrating aspects of Lyme Disease revolves around the variety of symptoms that individuals experience after an infected tick bite. The most common is the appearance of a circular rash radiating around the bite, but this may not show up until several weeks after the initial contact with the infected tick. In some cases, no rash presents at all, leaving those infected with other wide-ranging symptoms. The warning signs of Lyme Disease may include a high, persistent fever, headaches that do not go away, fatigue and exhaustion that is unexplained, or muscle aches that have no clear cause. Given these other symptoms, it can be a challenge to properly diagnose Lyme Disease early in its onset.

Misdiagnosis Is Common

Although the prevalence of Lyme Disease has increased tenfold over the last three decades, misdiagnosis still runs rampant. A medical negligence specialist team explains that the health condition is often misdiagnosed initially because of its vague symptoms, particularly those who have no noticeable rash after a bite. Recent studies show that more than 50% of individuals with the condition have no recollection of being bitten by a tick, and no memory of a rash appearing around a bite if they do recall the incident. Additionally, Lyme Disease mimics several other conditions, including chronic fatigue syndrome, food poisoning when a fever is present, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, or rheumatoid arthritis.

Compounding the issue of misdiagnosis is the problematic testing that takes place to help determine if Lyme Disease is present after a tick bite. Most healthcare organisations utilize a two-step process to diagnosis the condition: an overview of symptoms and a laboratory test. The latter is known to show negative results even when Lyme Disease is present, and those results can take several days to several weeks to be processed. These issues along with the vagueness of symptoms mean misdiagnosis happens more often than not, leaving patients without a proper recourse for treatment when it is needed most.

Getting Early Treatment and Finding Support

Although Lyme Disease is not altogether preventable, early treatment after the right diagnosis is helpful in eliminating symptoms. For most adults and children, antibiotics are the standard treatment plan shortly after diagnosis. When a rash is present, no further testing is needed and either oral or intravenous treatment can begin immediately. Individuals who do not have a rash may not receive antibiotics right away, but having the medication as soon as possible after recognising Lyme Disease as the culprit of symptoms is the best course of action to prevent issues in the future.

Patients with Lyme Disease who do not receive treatment quickly, or the select few who experience what is known as post-treatment Lyme Disease where discomfort continues past medical intervention may need to discuss other treatment plans for the ongoing control of symptoms with their medical provider. In addition, support groups through non-profit organisations may be an added help for those with continuous symptoms even after treatment. There is no cure for Lyme Disease that has already been treated with antibiotics, but having the right support system in place is beneficial in managing symptoms over time.

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