The after-effects may then be mistaken for chronic Lyme disease. Alterations in visual function can occur, including retinal damage, optic atrophy, and blindness, with early signs such as red eyes, double vision, conjunctivitis, and blots on the visual field (seeing spots) indicators of damage to the eyes. Damage to the heart tissue may also arise, leading to symptoms such as irregular heartbeat and dizziness initially, followed by chest pain, vasculitis, and myocarditis. Where significant inflammation and damage occurs, cardiac function could become chronically impaired even after treatment for Lyme disease.
Number of Chronic Lyme Disease Cases
It is thought that around 5% of patients with chronic untreated Lyme disease go on to develop neurological problems. Patients may suffer from weakening of the limbs, muscle atrophy, and poor reflexes due to problems with nerve conductivity. Incontinence, awkward gait, vertigo, and back pain can all also occur, indicating possible chronic encephalomyelitis. Brain damage leading to the neurological problems mentioned above as well as droopy or lazy eye, strokes, dysphasia (aphasia), dysarthria, and dysphagia have all been attributed to late stage Lyme disease.
Mental Health Symptoms of Chronic Lyme Disease
Depression is not a common Lyme disease symptom and is thought no more likely to occur in patients than in the general population. However, some patients, as with others with persistent and unaddressed symptoms of illness may be more at risk of depression especially if their symptoms are debilitating and restrictive. Where such symptoms arise, the patient may have difficulty holding down a job, and relationships with family and friends can suffer due to mood irregularities and irritability. The loss of social support networks may then increase the risk of depression and anxiety, which can then precipitate stress-related illnesses such as fibromyalgia and adrenal insufficiency.
It is suspected that some cases of acute psychosis misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia may actually be attributable to Lyme disease, especially in situations where the patient has no family history or previous indications of mental health problems. Other problems may make it difficult to accurately diagnose Lyme disease; panic attacks, anxiety, delusions, and depersonalization syndrome may make patients less likely to seek medical attention or to present traditional symptoms to a physician leading to misdiagnosis or no diagnosis.
Joint Pain and other Chronic Lyme Symptoms
Persistent joint problems occur in late stage Lyme disease and may be mistaken for Rheumatoid arthritis, or osteoarthritis; the former is, however, usually able to be discounted due to the asymmetrical nature of the pain. Damage occurring during the infected period may lead to chronic joint dysfunction and pain, especially where significant swelling has occurred and where synovial fluid and cartilage has been compromised due to infection. Other signs and symptoms of Lyme disease include liver abnormalities, gastrointestinal disturbances such as nausea, diarrhoea, and loss of appetite, and respiratory problems affecting breathing or even leading to pneumonia, although these are, thankfully, quite rare. Such respiratory issues, along with cardiovascular problems are potentially fatal, although Lyme disease has been listed as the cause of death in only a handful of cases around the world.
Chronic Lyme Disease – A Catch-All Diagnosis for Lazy Doctors?
Many other symptoms have been linked to the infection, and some physicians are concerned that Lyme disease is used as a ‘catch-all’ diagnosis for any and every complaint presented by patients. The concern then is that other, treatable or manageable conditions are not being appropriately addressed and are, instead, being erroneously treated with antibiotics which can endanger the patient.
A patient’s particular circumstances prior to contracting Lyme disease will also affect their experience of the condition, with weaknesses in certain bodily systems more vulnerable to attack by the bacteria. For example, patients with existing heart problems may find their symptoms exacerbated, as might those with previous mental health issues, joint pain, nerve pain from conditions such as spinal stenosis, and even sleep disturbances. Recognizing Lyme disease symptoms at an early stage can avoid the most debilitating aspects of the condition making both patient and physician education vital.