Is Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Misdiagnosed Lyme Disease?
Chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and Lyme disease are severe, debilitating illnesses. They are often characterized by joint and nerve pain, mood disorders, extreme fatigue, digestive disorders, and poor sleep. Unfortunately, these symptoms habitually overlap, making it difficult to diagnose with certainty.
A woman with Lyme disease, for instance, is twice as likely to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia. And because fibromyalgia is mostly characterized by widespread pain and fatigue, it can easily be mistaken for chronic fatigue syndrome. Research shows that Lyme disease is the most likely of the three to be misdiagnosed.
What exactly are these diseases, and what do you need to know about them?
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as Myalgic encephalomyelitis, is a complex, disabling disease symbolized by overwhelming fatigue that cannot be explained. This fatigue gets worse with physical activity but is not alleviated by rest either.
The CDC estimates that up to 2.5 million Americans suffer from CFS. Women are more likely to get it than men. People who suffer from this disease are unable to function normally and may be confined to bed or housebound for long periods.
Some of the most notable symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome include:
- Fatigue that lasts up to six months
- Brain fog
- Poor sleep patterns
- Headaches and dizziness especially when standing
- Muscle and joint pain
- Shortness of breath
- Digestive issues
- Depression and anxiety
One of the most significant issues with this disease is ‘Post-exertional malaise (PEM),’ or the worsening of symptoms after an activity. Often called a ‘crash,’ a patient’s symptoms get considerably worse, and this crash can last up to several weeks.
Unfortunately, the cause of this disease is unknown, and there is no dedicated test to diagnose it. This also means that there is no cure, although symptoms can be managed in various ways. These may include diet, counseling, supplements, and therapies like meditation and massage. For the most part, it is up to individual doctors to ask the right questions to arrive at a possible diagnosis.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes acute, widespread body pain. It is also characterized by fatigue, sleep problems, and depression. According to the CDC, about 4 million Americans have fibromyalgia.
The most common symptoms of this disorder are:
- Pain and stiffness
- Mood changes
- Lack of sleep
- Poor memory
- Bloating and constipation
Similar to chronic fatigue syndrome, there is no established cause for fibromyalgia. Some experts believe that it is caused by hormonal disturbances, or a chemical imbalance affecting the nervous system. Others have attributed it to physical trauma, stress, or genetics.
Diagnosing this condition is not easy. This is not only because there is no set lab test, but also because the symptoms resemble those of many other diseases. These symptoms also vary from person to person, and pain migrates from place to place. Some patients have had trouble convincing medical personnel that they were sick.
Diagnosing fibromyalgia then becomes a game of elimination. The doctor conducts tests to rule out all other conditions that could be causing the symptoms, such as rheumatoid arthritis. This is a long and frustrating process, and for some people, it might take years before they get the right diagnosis.
Treatment, on the other hand, is fairly effective and can include a combination of pain relievers, therapy, exercise, and stress management.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by the black-legged tick. According to the CDC, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the USA, with about 300,000 people treated for it every year. This disease is prevalent in northern California, the north-central states of Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as the north-eastern from Virginia to Maine.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The symptoms of Lyme disease will mostly vary with the stage of infection. Between 3 and 30 days of being bitten by a tick you will experience:
- Joint aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A pronounced rash at the bite site
If your bite is several months old, you will experience:
- Neck stiffness
- Severe headaches
- Facial palsy
- Joint pain and swelling
- Numbness or tingling in extremities
- Overall body pain
Lyme disease diagnosis & testing
The symptoms of Lyme disease can mimic those of their conditions, such as those described above. This is particularly so if you don’t have a recent tick rash, or if you don’t remember being bitten. During your consultation, the doctor will likely try to establish if you had previously been in a prevalent tick area.
Other than the patient’s medical history, a lab test is conducted to confirm if the patient has Lyme disease. This two-step test consists of:
- ELISA Test– This is a test designed to detect Borrelia burgdorferi antibodies. Unfortunately, this test is only up to 50% accurate, primarily because it seeks to detect antibodies developed by the body after the tick bite. The problem with this is that it takes several weeks for the antibodies to form, so the test can come out negative, even if you do have Lyme disease. With a negative Lyme result, no further testing is recommended. As such, many patients who actually have the disease get a diagnosis for other conditions, such as fibromyalgia.
Western blot test– This test is only done following a positive ELISA test, as a way of confirming the diagnosis. If it comes out positive, then the patient is officially diagnosed as having Lyme disease.
Lyme Disease Treatment
Once the presence of Lyme disease has been established, then treatment can start. Patients who are suffering from the early stages of the disease take antibiotics and experience a fast and complete recovery.
For a fraction of people, however, symptoms of Lyme disease may linger even after correct diagnosis and treatment. This condition is referred to as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS). Experts do not know why some people don’t recover fully. For the most part, they can only infer that the bacterium causes some sort of auto-immune response, which sustains the symptoms.
Some naturopathic modalities that LIVV implements into their treatment protocols for patients with Lyme disease:
- High Dose Vitamin C
- Ozone Therapy (10 pass)
- ALA (alpha lipoic acid)
- Specific lyme disease protocol
Conventional medicine has no known treatment for PTLDS. Studies have shown that continued use of antibiotics does not have any benefit, and may in fact have adverse side effects. Most patients are left to manage individual symptoms, and for some people, these improve with time. This also means that some people end up with long life suffering.
How to prevent Lyme disease
Given the debilitating nature of Lyme disease, it is best to do everything possible to avoid contracting it.
If you live in or will be visiting areas of the country where the black-legged tick is common, you should take some precautions such as:
- Wear treated clothes and gear, especially when going out in wooded and grassy areas.
- Check for ticks in yourself, children and pets when you come from a grassy area as the tick has to attach for 36-48 hours to cause infection
- Use insect repellant
- Shower as soon as you return from a grassy or wooded area
- Tick-proof your compound/ yard if you live in a bushy area known to have ticks
Are there Alternative treatments for chronic diseases?
If you have reached the end of the road with conventional medicine for the above conditions, you will be happy to know that you still have options. Ozone therapy, for instance, is highly recommended for treating auto-immune diseases.
This treatment involves oxygenating the body using ozone to kill bacteria, viruses, and toxins. It boosts cellular metabolism and regenerates cells to relieve fatigue, joint pain, and lifts brain fog. Ozone also re-energizes the immune system, helping it fight from within. It has, therefore, been proven to be a potent cure for Lyme disease.
As we have seen, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and Lyme disease have similar symptoms. Because the first two have no specific determining test, patients can often get a mixed diagnosis. When it comes to Lyme disease, a two-step lab test is necessary.
Unfortunately, the first part of the test might come up negative even for someone with the disease. This is a leading cause of misdiagnosis, with most patients believing that they have fibromyalgia. It is only when the symptoms persist for an extended period that they start wondering about Lyme disease.
Alternative treatments such as Ozone therapy can give relief even to patients who have been suffering for years.