Diagnosing Lyme disease early leads you to the most effective treatment and speedy recovery. The most reliable and accurate test for Lyme disease is a blood test since the procedure involves detecting antibodies, which are only released when the Lyme-causing bacteria is in the body.
Here are the standard blood tests for Lyme disease:
- Western Blot: Most accurate test for Lyme disease confirmation at the early stage
- ELISA test: Best test for Lyme disease years after getting infected (pairs with Western blot)
It’s important to note that taking both tests ensures increased accuracy of the diagnosis.
Get the Lyme disease blood test if you experience its symptoms or have been exposed to ticks that might have caused the infection. Learn more about this infection’s testing, cause, symptoms, and complications as you read on.
What Is the Most Accurate Test for Lyme Disease
Although there are at-home kits for Lyme disease, a blood test is still the most accurate way to diagnose this health condition as it is performed by experts in the field. Here are two blood tests you can order online or book in labs near you.
- Antibody Blood Test (Western Blot)
This test often uses Western blot or immunoblot to identify antibodies produced when the causative bacteria infect the tissues. These antibodies are released by immune cells, specifically against Lyme disease’s pathogen (disease-causing microbe). During the immunoblot, the antibodies are isolated from the blood sample (sometimes from cerebrospinal fluid or CSF) and matched accordingly.
You can order an antibody test online and choose from an immunoblot blood test or Ab with reflex to blot (IgG, IgM) blood test.
- Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test
The ELISA test follows the same principle as that of the immunoblot test. It also detects antibodies associated with Borrelia burgdorferi. However, because the test can produce false negative and positive results, it is typically taken together with the Western blot for further verification.
When choosing the most accurate test, consider the most efficient option and the symptoms you experience. Your doctor may recommend taking both tests to identify the causative agent. Likewise, getting both ELISA and western blot blood tests increases the accuracy of Lyme disease diagnosis by 99.9%.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection brought about by the spiral-shaped bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. On rare occasions, Borrelia mayonii can also cause the condition. These bacteria can only be transmitted to humans through one vector: the tick.
In the US, it is considered the most prevalent disease transmitted via vectors. According to the CDC, an estimated 300,000 people acquire the infection annually.
You can contract Lyme disease anywhere in the US. However, it is more prevalent in Upper Midwest, Northeast, and Northwestern States. Likewise, infected ticks are around all year, but the tick season is between April and October.
Did you know? Lyme disease was detected in 1975. Its name originated from where the infection was first identified – Lyme, Connecticut.
Misconceptions About The Cause of Lyme Disease
Deer ticks are called what they are because they often leach on deer. There were a few misconceptions about how the causative bacteria are transmitted to humans.
Some people falsely believe that eating venison can cause Lyme disease. At the same time, others are firm in their understanding that getting bitten by deers can guarantee an infection. As a result, some people advocate for the eradication of deers.
But Dr. Tamara Awerbuch of the Harvard School of Public Health pointed out the deers are not carriers of the bacteria per se. Sure, they play a critical role in the life cycle of the bacteria, but they do not directly transfer the bacteria to humans.
Talking about the source of Borrelia burgdorferi, deer ticks commonly harbor the disease-causing microbe from mice and rodents. But not from the deers.
Nonetheless, if you get near a deer, you increase your chances of getting exposed to infected ticks. And if a carrier indeed bites you, you might experience different symptoms depending on how long it has been since you were infected.
Within 3 to 30 days of the tick attack, you may observe early signs of the infection. But there is also the likelihood that symptoms don’t show up immediately after getting the tick bite. Others reported observing these symptoms as late as 6 to 36 months after the tick exposure.
Early Signs and Symptoms
- Erythema migrans (EM) rash
- Joint pain
- Neck stiffness
- Body aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
Later Signs and Symptoms
- Nerve pain
- More EM rashes
- Severe joint pain
- Severe headaches
- Shortness of breath
- Neurological problems
- Temporary facial paralysis
- Tingling and numbing in the hands and feet
Complications Caused by Lyme Disease
Lyme disease can affect any organ in your body. However, it primarily causes damage to your skin, brain, nerves, joints, muscles, heart, and lymph nodes. Once the infection sets in, the immune system becomes weakened as leukocytes, or the immune cells, fight off the bacteria.
Moreover, a 2020 published study by researchers from John Hopkins showed that Lyme disease could trigger an autoimmune disorder. Their research uncovered the ability of Borrelia burgdorferi to evade dendritic cells. As a result, instead of attacking the bacteria, the immune cells now attack healthy cells.
Long-Term Effects of Lyme Disease
Without treatment, Lyme disease could cause long-term health issues, such as the following.
- Bell’s Palsy
Bacteria causing Lyme disease can attack facial nerves. The infection will eventually lead to inflammation, causing Bell’s palsy, where the facial muscle begins to droop or be paralyzed.
It could be episodic or temporary. But in some cases, it only disappears after a long time. People experiencing Bell’s palsy often feel pain, discomfort, and weakness on one side of their face or head.
- Heart Problems
Lyme disease can damage your heart as Borrelia burgdorferi may enter its tissues. When this occurs, a condition called Lyme carditis unfolds. Lyme carditis causes an interruption in the electrical signaling of the heart chambers, resulting in arrhythmia or heart block.
Although Lyme carditis is rare and can be treated with antibiotics, it is potentially fatal. Likewise, it can lead to long-term complications like heart failure. Some patients even have to wear pacemakers.
- Sleep Disorders
Insomnia and sleep disturbances can occur, especially when the Borrelia burgdorferi reaches the brain. Moreover, it also induces hallucinogenic dreams. Plus, the experience of pain and fatigue brought about by the condition contributes to poor sleep quality.
When the brain is affected by Lyme disease, it can trigger some psychological problems. As the infection extends to the brain mass, it leads to inflammation that affects the patient’s mental health.
There have been documented higher risks for suicidal thoughts in patients diagnosed with the disease. They also have about 75% higher risk of death by suicide and 42% increased chances of developing depression and bipolar disorder.
Unfortunately, some of these conditions can appear even after treatment – referred to as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS).
5. Neurological Damage
Unfortunately, Lyme disease can cause permanent neurological damage. In some cases, conditions like joint pain and arthritis never disappear once you reach the late stage of the infection.
A huge factor for these permanent damages is late treatment. However, it is rare to develop fatal complications after antibiotic therapy unless there are other underlying factors.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Get Lyme Disease Twice?
You can be reinfected with Lyme disease if a carrier tick bites you for the second time. You may notice the same symptoms, especially the rash that looks like a bullseye (EM rash).
On the other hand, Lyme disease flare-ups, or the tendency to experience the same symptoms even without getting exposed to deer ticks, indicates chronic Lyme disease.
Can Lyme Disease Change Your Personality?
To some degree, Lyme disease can change your personality, specifically your mood, energy level, and cognition. The condition affects the psychological state of a person due to the inflammation it causes to certain parts of the brain.
As a result, the cognitive function becomes disrupted, so crucial neurotransmitters are not adequately produced. Moreover, several behavioral changes manifest, like paranoia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks, and anorexia nervosa.
Is Lyme Disease Completely Curable?
Yes, you can completely recover from Lyme disease. Most individuals infected by this condition eliminate the bacteria altogether after a 2-to-4-week course of antibiotic treatment.
While chronic Lyme disease can linger for months, it is rare to sustain the symptoms for years. Unless in rare cases when the condition is not diagnosed correctly.
However, if the infection escalated to multisystemic complications, the treatment could be more complex and probably take longer to complete. Likewise, it could retain permanent neurological and joint damages.
What Happens if Lyme Disease Goes Untreated for Years?
If Lyme disease goes untreated for years, you’ll suffer its long-term effects, which include chronic joint inflammation, heart problems (Lyme carditis), psychological disorders, sleep problems, memory loss, and nerve damage. Moreover, since Lyme disease has a multisystemic impact, it is highly likely to infect several organs.
The Bottom Line
Symptoms of Lyme disease are considered to be nonfatal, and they can be treated primarily by antibiotics. However, if left undiagnosed, this condition becomes chronic, bringing more than just discomfort as the chances of life-threatening consequences increases. So, don’t hesitate to order the most accurate test for Lyme disease to detect the condition at its onset.