Conditions

Why Is Lyme Disease So Hard To Diagnose?

Lyme disease affects nearly 300,000 people every year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But many people may not know that they contracted the infection. 

The tick-borne disease can be difficult to diagnose. The symptoms of Lyme disease include skin rash, fever, headache and fatigue.

However, symptoms may not appear in some cases. There were also cases of doctors misdiagnosing patients because many conditions share the same initial signs with Lyme disease. 

Diagnosis mainly relies on physical findings and history of tick bites. The CDC warned that the infection may affect the heart, nervous system and joints if left untreated. 

The hard-to-detect symptoms of Lyme disease left one child suffering for a year. The 10-year-old Sam Mayfield struggled during his entire third-grade year since doctors failed to properly diagnose the tick-borne disease, WCPO reported Thursday

The boy spent most of his time at home sick with stomach pain and uncomfortable to eat since his throat hurt. 

“It was horrible,” his mother Teresa Mayfield said. “As a mother, there’s no worse feeling than, ‘I can’t help. I can’t make him better.’”

Doctors initially said Sam had either strep throat or mononucleosis. Teresa even suspected her son developed cancer. But he later tested negative for the three conditions. 

It took almost a year before a doctor confirmed the boy had Lyme disease. Sam was treated with antibiotics and was able to return to school after his recovery. 

But the disease may remain undetected for years. That is the case of Theresa Haselmeyer, who experienced repeated misdiagnoses for more than a decade. 

Haselmeyer worked as a nurse and health coach from Norwood. She felt joint pains, headaches, nerve damage, fever and fatigue. 

“I was sick for 15 years before I ever got a Lyme disease diagnosis,” Haselmeyer said. “I’m a registered nurse. I’m a medical professional.”

Why Lyme Disease Is Hard To Identify

Some symptoms of Lyme disease may appear in parts of the body. People may also experience fever, aches and pains that can be attributed to flu. 

Doctors find difficult to identify Lyme disease since its symptoms can remain hidden for years or are too common, which both lead to misdiagnosis. 

"So if you don't see a rash, you might not even go to the doctor—or it's possible your doctor might not recognize it," Anne Bass, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, told Health.com in a 2015 report. 

A blood test, which is commonly used to determine health problems, is also not effective to confirm the infection. Bass said its results can be confusing, “especially for physicians who aren't used to dealing with Lyme.”

Another factor that makes the disease hard to identify is that doctors need to confirm a tick bite. If a patient fails to recall being bitten, diagnosis may take longer time and the risk of errors increases. 

tick Thousands of patients with Lyme disease reportedly remain undiagnosed or under-treated in the U.S. due to lack of scientific evidence and outdated screening methods. Pixabay

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