Can't Get Better? 4 Signs Your Aches & Pains Could Be Lyme Disease

Board-certified physician By Richard Horowitz, M.D.
Board-certified physician
Richard Horowitz, M.D. is a board certified internist in private practice in Hyde Park, N.Y. He is medical director of the Hudson Valley Healing Arts Center, an integrative medical center which combines both classical and complementary approaches in the treatment of Lyme Disease and other tick-borne disorders.
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Lyme disease is the number one vector-borne epidemic in the world and mimics many common diseases and autoimmune illnesses. If you've been told that you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, an autoimmune disease like MS, or are just "getting old,” it is possible that you suffer from the number one infectious cause of these symptoms.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released data showing a tenfold increase in the number of cases of Lyme disease, with approximately one million Americans reported having been exposed to it in 2012. So if you go to a doctor complaining of fatigue with joint and muscle pain, and have a negative blood test, it's possible you may have contracted Lyme disease. How can you know whether you have a tick-borne illness causing your symptoms, though? Here are four signs to watch for:

1. You have more than one symptom.

Lyme disease is a multisystemic illness. That means that people don’t usually complain of just one symptom, but instead notice a cluster of symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Tingling
  • Numbness and burning sensations
  • A stiff neck
  • Headaches
  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Chest pain with palpitations
  • Psychiatric symptoms such as depression and anxiety

Others may also complain of day sweats, night sweats and chills, as well as shortness of breath, with an unexplained cough if they have contracted babesiosis. A different tick-borne infection than Lyme disease, babesiosis can be transmitted with the same tick bite. It's a malaria-type parasite which makes people much sicker and difficult to treat with resistant symptoms.

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2. The pain changes and moves around the body.

Another classic trait of Lyme disease is the migratory nature of the pain. The muscle and joint pain, as well as the tingling, numbness and burning sensations often tend to come and go and move around the body. For example, one day the joint pain might be in the knees and a few days later it may be affecting another nerve. Especially when untreated, research says Lyme disease can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system.

3. Your symptoms improve when you're taking medication for other ailments.

Patients taking antibiotics for an unrelated problem (such as upper respiratory infection or urinary tract infection), will often report that their symptoms are much better while taking the antibiotic, and worsen when the antibiotic is stopped. Conversely, some individuals feel much worse on antibiotics, where all of their symptoms are intensified. This is called a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction, where the Lyme bacteria are being killed off, and temporarily worsen the underlying symptoms.

4. You've gotten a positive blood test.

The fourth and final point to determine if your symptoms are due to Lyme disease is to ask your healthcare provider to run a blood test. Although there are several different laboratory tests to diagnose Lyme disease, these tests each have their pros and cons, and can miss establishing the diagnosis because they are not sensitive enough to always pick up the presence of the bacteria.

A bullseye rash is a classic manifestation of Lyme disease, and does not require a positive blood test, but less than 50% of people may get the rash, and it may be located in a part of the body where the rash cannot easily be seen.

If you suffer from chronic unexplained symptoms, including fatigue and musculoskeletal pain, follow this four-step approach and ask your doctor for a professional opinion.

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