Because not all doctors are trained to properly spot and diagnose Lyme disease, there are many people who end up getting misdiagnosed with other conditions. One common misdiagnosis is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which does have some similarities to Lyme disease. Here’s a breakdown of why these conditions are sometimes confused for one another.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mental illness that affects millions of people throughout Europe. It’s categorised as a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. During the fall and into the winter months, individuals with SAD experience symptoms of depression, fatigue and hopelessness. It’s also common for people with SAD to socially withdraw during this time period. These symptoms, unless they are accompanied by a major depressive disorder, typically resolve within a few months. Treatment options include light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medication.
SAD can become confused with Lyme disease because people can present with some of the same symptoms. Both Lyme disease sufferers and people with SAD note fatigue, which can sometimes be extreme. This fatigue is often unexplainable and is not helped by an increase of sleep at night or by taking naps during the day. Both people with SAD and Lyme disease state that it becomes harder for them to complete daily activities because of the intense tiredness and low energy that they experience. The symptom of fatigue can also result in people with Lyme disease being misdiagnosed with other conditions, like chronic fatigue syndrome.
Another common symptom for both conditions is depression. SAD is marked with periods of intense sadness, hopelessness, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of death or suicide. These symptoms are present nearly every day during this period. Individuals with SAD also note that they have difficulty concentrating and don’t seem to enjoy activities that used to be fun for them. People with Lyme disease can also have these same feelings and face the same apathy towards the world. Lyme disease patients not only feel these symptoms because of possible neurological complications from the condition, but also because coping with a chronic illness like Lyme can be a defeating and frustrating challenge.
Both SAD and Lyme disease sufferers can also notice changes in their appetite and with their weight. SAD and Lyme disease tend to create a loss of appetite where the patient feels reluctant to eat. This can result in weight loss – a significant amount for some people. However, changes in eating habits or weight can’t be a sole factor in determining someone’s diagnosis between SAD or Lyme disease. Changes in sleeping patterns are also an indicator of both SAD and Lyme disease. Either oversleeping or not getting enough sleep (which can turn into insomnia) shows that a person is either being affected by a mood disorder like SAD or an infectious disease like Lyme.
Although SAD hits in the winter time, it is also possible for people to contract Lyme disease during this time, as ticks can still be prevalent even in colder weather. That means that the time of year can’t specifically work to rule out either diagnosis. The best way that a doctor can make an appropriate and accurate diagnosis is to take a full medical history of the patient, including questions related to past and present mood disorders and depression. Even if the doctor suspects the patient has general depression or SAD, additional bloodwork should be done to completely rule out Lyme disease. This step is crucial, especially if the patient has been out in nature or in areas where ticks could have been present and they could have been exposed to Lyme.
In treating Lyme disease, it makes a difference how quickly a person can receive the proper treatment protocol. In order to fight the infection and avoid the patient developing chronic Lyme disease symptoms (which can wreak havoc on the neurological and nervous systems), it’s imperative that doctors are both thoughtful and aggressive in their treatment approaches. There really isn’t any time to waste with a misdiagnosis. Although Lyme disease and SAD share a lot of common symptoms, the way they are treated is very different. Doctors should not be afraid to rule out SAD and test for Lyme disease in order to ensure the patient is getting the right diagnosis and an effective treatment plan.
There is also the possibility that a patient has both diagnoses. These individuals should work with their doctor to simultaneously treat the SAD symptoms as well as the Lyme disease ones. Patients can benefit from tackling the depression and fatigue along with other physical Lyme disease symptoms, as they focus on the wellbeing of both their mind and body. Individuals should make sure that they’re getting help for their medical conditions, while not ignoring how serious and debilitating the emotional symptoms can be.
The bottom line: although Seasonal Affective Disorder and Lyme disease can look similar, patients need a proper diagnosis before they can get the appropriate treatment they need to get their health back on track.