May is Lyme Disease Awareness month. Known as one of the “Great Imitators,” Lyme Disease can be responsible for dozens of strange and often painful symptoms and can be difficult to diagnose and treat. Many years ago, I unexpectedly received a diagnosis and treatment for Lyme Disease after I experienced several mysterious and seemingly unrelated symptoms.
Lyme Disease Symptoms
According to the Mayo Clinic, Lyme Disease most commonly occurs after you’ve been bitten by an infected deer tick. There is often a characteristic rash that develops at the site of the bite, which is often followed by flu-like symptoms, such as fever, aching, swelling, itching, and swollen lymph nodes. As the infection persists, you can develop fatigue, muscle weakness and more serious symptoms, such as an arrhythmia of the heart, inflammation of the liver or eyes, pain in the spine and joints, especially the knee, as well as dizziness, and other neurological symptoms such as problems with memory.
I didn’t have the characteristic rash, and couldn’t remember being bitten by a tick, but at the time, my husband and I had been spending most of our weekends and holidays section hiking the Appalachian Trail. We also live in a heavily wooded area in our local town, so I certainly was in an area that may have been home to ticks carrying Lyme Disease.
I first went to my primary care physician after feeling unusually tired for several weeks. I had some aches and pains in my upper and lower spine, as well as my knees, which I attributed to injuries I had sustained in a car accident a few years before. The doctor thought that I perhaps had the flu, and said I needed to rest more and drink plenty of fluids, and he ran a test for mononucleosis, since I had felt like i had the flu for over two weeks, which eventually came back negative.
I continued to feel tired and weak, and the aching got worse. I was only 27 at the time, but I felt like I sounded like one of my older relatives that complained of arthritis. Somewhere around this time I started having episodes of extreme dizziness, and double vision. The visual disturbances would come and go, but the dizziness eventually became non-stop. At this point my primary care physician sent me to a neurologist for further testing.
Testing for Lyme Disease
When I went to the neurologist, he ran a battery of tests. I had an EEG, which measures the electrical activity of the brain, to determine if I was having seizures. They did a sleep study to see if I had sleep apnea. They did EMG studies to measure the conductivity of my muscles in my arms and legs. A CAT scan of my entire spine. They also performed a host of blood tests and a spinal tap to test for various types of infection and antibodies in the cerebro-spinal fluid. Among the tests that were run was the ELISA ( enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test and the Western Blot I mmunoblot Test. Both of these last two tests came back positive, and so I was finally given a diagnosis of Lyme Disease.
Treatment for Lyme Disease
By the time that I had received my diagnosis of Lyme Disease, I had been ill for almost three months. I was started on an oral antibiotic, doxycycline, twice a day, for four weeks. The dizziness and blurred vision began to clear about two weeks into my treatment, but I had some residual aches and pain in my back and knees for a few months after my treatment ended. The neurologist advised me that some people do have some symptoms that persist for weeks or even months after treatment ends, but that many times these will subside over time. He also advised me that it is rare, but there are people with chronic Lyme Disease symptoms, months or years after the initial infection. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to have been the case for me.
Preventing Lyme Disease
There isn’t a vaccine to prevent Lyme Disease, so the best way to avoid it, is to avoid areas where you might pick up a tick, or take precautions to reduce your chances of picking up a tick or other pest. My husband and I still spend a great deal of time in the woods, but now we make a point to check one another’s scalp for ticks or other insects when we go on our hiking trips. We also make a point to wear long sleeved shirts that have collars and that fasten at the wrist, long pants that we wear tucked into our boots, and hats, to help decrease the risk of picking up a tick or other pest on our travels.