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Lyme disease and misdiagnosis

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that spreads to humans from the bite of a certain species of tick. It is treatable with antibiotics, but if left untreated, it can cause severe long-term health issues.

Lyme disease misdiagnosis occurs in one of two different ways. Doctors either misdiagnose Lyme disease as something else, or they diagnose Lyme disease in a patient who does not actually have it.

Mistaking Lyme disease for something else

According to WebMD, the symptoms of Lyme disease mimic those of many other conditions. For example, because persistent and severe joint pain is common with Lyme disease, doctors may mistake it for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. One distinguishing characteristic of Lyme disease is that it can cause a rash shaped like a bull’s eye. However, not all patients develop the rash, making it difficult to differentiate Lyme disease from other conditions.

Diagnosing Lyme disease where it is not present

With the lab test currently available for diagnosing bacterial infection, detecting Lyme disease is difficult. According to the University of Michigan Health, this sometimes causes doctors to falsely diagnose Lyme disease in patients who do not have it. People who have had Lyme disease in the past may test positive even if the infection is not active. Sometimes patients with another bacterial infection show a positive test for Lyme disease.

Misdiagnosis of Lyme disease can result in several adverse outcomes for patients. If the patient has Lyme disease but the diagnosis is for something else, it can delay treatment. On the other hand, if a patient without Lyme disease shows a positive test for it, he or she may take antibiotics unnecessarily.