Lyme Disease Diagnosis

Receiving a Lyme disease diagnosis is no party. However, in the Lyme community a correct Lyme disease diagnosis is almost, almost, cause to celebrate. This is because everyone knows somebody who has suffered with Lyme symptoms for years, who has repeatedly been misdiagnosed by medical doctors, or who has been sent from specialist to specialist only to be told -- after spending obscene amounts of money on unnecessary procedures, surgeries and tests -- that their symptoms are all in their head.

A correct Lyme disease diagnosis means that finally the patient can begin proper treatment. And that is definitely a reason for optimism and celebration. In a fundamental way, it can be comforting to hear those three little words from your doctor: You have Lyme.

Herbalist and author of Healing Lyme: Natural Healing and Prevention of Lyme Borreliosis and Its Coinfections, Stephen Harrod Buhner agrees, saying, "The most important thing for Lyme patients is an acknowledgment of the kind of condition that they've got."

"I think probably the most difficult thing Lyme patients have to deal with is the lack of understanding in the medical community and how they're treated by the medical community," says Buhner. "So many of them are told it's all in their heads. So many of them are misdiagnosed. So many of them are told that after they do a regular course of antibiotics they should be well, and if they aren't, well, then that's their problem, it's something wrong with them, mentally."

Lyme disease is a growing epidemic, and the CDC now admits that numbers of new cases annually could be tenfold the 24,000 cases they report. Dr. Raphael Stricker, former president of ILADS, treats a large number of Lyme patients in his San Francisco clinic. He states that in general, medical doctors are "very ill-prepared to respond" to a Lyme epidemic.

"I think there is a lot of ignorance about Lyme Disease around the country, and even in areas where traditionally it's been epidemic, a lot of physicians really don't understand the disease." A Lyme disease diagnosis can create problems for doctors in endemic regions such as the northeastern US, where insurance companies may reject a doctor's plan for treatment due to the high number of cases. Doctors may also be fearful of lowered real estate prices, should they make the claim that they live and practice in an area where Lyme is rampant.

Several factors combine to create the current milieu, says Dr. Stricker. "One is the under-reporting by the CDC, which is about tenfold less than the true number. Probably even lower than that, if you go by statistics from other parts of country. It may be as much as forty-fold less than the actual number of Lyme cases."

"The other problem is the guidelines of the IDSA," he adds. "IDSA treatment guidelines for Lyme are extremely narrow and restrict a Lyme disease diagnosis to a very narrow group of patients, and exclude the vast majority of patients who have a more chronic form of the disease. Those are two of the main issues that we face that are big problems."

Why is the detection of Lyme bacteria a critical concern?

Failure to successfully detect Borrelia burgdorferi and give a correct Lyme disease diagnosis can exacerbate problems for the patient. When caught early, Lyme is treatable with antibiotics, in many cases. When left to spread throughout the body's systems, the Lyme bacteria can create persistent and increasing pathologies such as rheumatoid arthritis, facial paralysis, cardiac arrhythmia and neurological problems.

However, misdiagnosis and delay in treatment is commonplace. Medical professionals who are unable to recognize Lyme symptoms may complicate the problem by prescribing medicine that can harm the patient. For example, patients who don't suspect exposure to Lyme infection may consult a dermatologist for treatment of a troubling skin rash that behaves similarly to eczema. Dermatologists often prescribe steroids for controlling severe cases of eczema. Yet, steroids dangerously replicate Lyme bacteria. A person with an undetected Lyme infection who takes steroids will cause themselves harm.

In addition, Lyme symptoms can mimic many of the neurological signs typical of Alzheimer's disease. Therefore, elderly patients may receive a misguided, if professional, diagnosis of Alzheimer's when they present with late-stage Lyme disease symptoms. In this case, no antibiotics are subscribed and the patients' chances of healing from the Lyme infection dramatically decrease.

Among medical professionals, Lyme awareness is growing, yet still all-too-uncommon.


Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Stephen Harrod Buhner, oral communication, 11/30/06

Raphael Stricker, MD, oral communication, 4/23/2008

Coping with Lyme Disease (Henry Holt and Company 2004) by Denise Lang with Kenneth Liegner, MD,

Copyright © 2008 - 2011 Suzanne Arthur. All rights reserved.