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Lyme disease often masks itself as other medical conditions. Many of the most common symptoms (joint pain, extreme fatigue, lowered mood) can lead to misdiagnoses of illnesses like arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome or depression. Getting misdiagnosed can lead Lyme disease patients down an even longer and more fraught journey to recovery. As Lyme disease gets more attention worldwide, people are left wondering about both the chance to be misdiagnosed, as well as whether Lyme disease can actually cause psychological issues. So, if you’re wondering 'Could Lyme disease be misdiagnosed as schizoaffective disorder?', read on for more information.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infectious condition caused by tick bites. The bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, comes from tick carriers and enters the bloodstream of any mammal (including humans) that the ticks feed off. The disease got its name from a town called Lyme, Connecticut in the United States after scientists began studying it in the early 80s. Its main symptoms can include:
- A red, bullseye-shaped rash (typically at the site of the tick bite)
- Joint and/or muscle pain
- Extreme tiredness and fatigue
- Flu-like symptoms (including headaches, fever, chills, malaise)
- Changes in mood and appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
Lyme disease is generally treated with a course of antibiotics. However, if a person doesn’t receive treatment right away (often because of a misdiagnosis), they can develop late-stage/chronic Lyme disease. This means they can experience more severe symptoms, including neurological issues and problems with their nervous system. The medical community around the world is beginning to be more informed about Lyme disease, but there are still a great number of doctors who are not Lyme-literate and who do not know how to properly diagnose or treat Lyme disease cases. More awareness and education about the disease is needed so that people will receive accurate diagnoses in the future.
Could Lyme disease be misdiagnosed?
Unfortunately, because of a limited awareness surrounding the condition, there is still a great chance that patients may get a Lyme disease misdiagnosis. While the condition is often misdiagnosed for other physical illnesses (such as the ones listed above), many doctors inaccurately diagnose their patients with psychological conditions as well. These can include depression, anxiety and insomnia, as well as neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.
While these conditions can also occur alongside Lyme disease (in fact, many Lyme patients experience issues with their mental health), it’s important that patients receive the appropriate diagnosis in order to start getting the treatment they need. More Lyme-literate doctors could mean that patients receive the medical care they need for Lyme disease, instead of being dismissed as just having a psychological issue.
What is the connection between Lyme disease and schizoaffective disorder?
Schizoaffective disorders are a combination of symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder). Symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, depressed episodes and manic periods of high energy. The symptoms can occur at the same time or at different times and are often marked by cycles of severe symptoms followed by periods of improvement. These disorders are most commonly treated with a combination of medications and psychotherapy.
In a recent study, researchers found that schizoaffective symptoms occurred alongside Lyme disease symptoms in a patient they were monitoring. This led them to believe that the inflammation that occurs during the Lyme infection can lead to neurodegenerative changes that then result in schizophrenia-like presentations. Some researchers do believe there might be a link tying schizophrenia to chronic infections, but there’s not a lot of research to back this theory up yet. Basically, it’s not likely that Lyme disease is actually causing schizoaffective disorders to occur, but it is possible that these similar symptoms of paranoia and psychosis can be the result of Lyme disease.
In late-stage or chronic cases of Lyme disease, when left untreated or because of a lack of response to antibiotic treatment, patients can experience neurodegenerative symptoms. These can look like psychological issues such as rage attacks, depression, anxiety and the development of eating disorders. When psychosis occurs (often because of inflammation in the brain and cranial nerve), Lyme patients can experience derealisation. This creates a feeling of detachment from the real world. They can also have a related experience called depersonalisation, where a person feels detached from their bodies or their own thoughts. It can be incredibly disturbing to the patient. Psychosis can also include auditory or visual hallucinations or hearing words and phrases repeated internally in their heads.
Because these symptoms can show up both with Lyme disease and schizoaffective disorder, it’s crucial that the medical community tests for Lyme disease (even if the symptoms appear to be psychological in nature). Patients should be evaluated for both their mental health symptoms and their Lyme disease ones, in order to make sure they’re receiving an accurate diagnosis and an effective treatment regimen. Hopefully, more research will be done that focuses on studying the possible psychological and neurological effects of Lyme disease so that there will be more steps taken to educate the medical community. More education could mean a higher likelihood that Lyme disease patients will not be misdiagnosed.