Why Lyme Disease Gets Misdiagnosed as Depression, Bipolar, and More

Image by Freepik
Image by Freepik

Everyday Health released an article “Why Lyme Disease Gets Misdiagnosed as Depression, Bipolar, and More” on 7.24.2023, written by By Katie Camero, medically Reviewed by Seth Gillihan, PhD. Sheila Statlender, PhD describes Lyme disease as “the great imitator” because symptoms mimic many other physical and mental conditions and therefore can be often misdiagnosed.

Aside from the typical symptoms of Lyme disease, such as a fever, headache, fatigue, joint pain, and a red bull’s-eye rash, Lyme disease can also also resemble psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and even sometimes hallucinations. This is because Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, can affect the nervous system and cause symptoms like anxiety, depression, brain fog, and irritability.  Leo Shea, PhD says that more serious cases can also be associated with panic attacks, paranoia, rage, sudden mood swings, and audio and visual hallucinations. Leo Shea, PhD explains that “these neuropsychiatric symptoms overlap with common symptoms of mental health or neurological conditions.”

The process of getting diagnosed with Lyme disease is not easy, with diagnostic testing being a long process and not being the most reliable, doctors rely more on symptoms and the likelihood that the patient came in contact with a tick. The body doesn’t produce antibodies from Lyme disease until a few weeks after the initial bite, so tests done before this point will be negative, even though the patient has Lyme disease. Being diagnosed is also difficult because many doctors don’t have experience in diagnosing Lyme disease and therefore don’t understand the symptoms associated with it.

Lyme disease that goes undetected and untreated can pose serious health risks. Untreated Lyme disease can cause symptoms like “irregular heartbeat, dizziness, severe joint pain and swelling, shortness of breath, limb numbness, memory problems, facial palsy, and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord” the CDC says. Many people may also be unaware that they were bitten by a tick and therefore aren’t looking for the signs of Lyme disease, and may be prescribed with other medication for a condition they don’t have, and further worsen the person’s mental and physical health. A separate 2018 study, it was found that “1 in 5 people with Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome reported suicidal ideation.”

For more information:

Read the full article on the Everyday Health website here.

Read on LDA’s website about Lyme and Mental Illness.

Read on LDA’s website about Lyme, Mental Disorders, and Suicidal Behaviors.