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Chronic Lyme Disease Linked to ADHD in Adults

lyme disease symptoms adhd cognitive deficits

Problems paying attention? Maybe it's ADHD, not Chronic Lyme Disease.

Newly published research shows a connection between Chronic Lyme disease and ADHD, and the study also supports earlier findings supporting a relationship between anxiety and depression and Chronic Lyme disease. No previous research has demonstrated a connection between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults and Chronic Lyme disease but Dr Joel L. Young, who conducted the research, thinks that some patients may be being misdiagnosed with Chronic Lyme disease when their symptoms would be better explained by a diagnosis of ADHD.

Comparing Chronic Lyme Disease to ADHD

Dr Young is the Medical Director of Rochester Center for Behavioral Medicine, in Minnesota, and his research looked at 58 adults with Chronic Lyme disease, along with a control group of 26 adults without CLD. The participants were selected from those attending the 2009 Michigan Lyme Disease Association Conference and Young’s findings were recently presented a the American Psychiatric Association’s 2012 Annual Meeting. Those completing the survey had a mean age of 48-49 in both the control group and the patients with Chronic Lyme disease. The survey results showed that more adults with Chronic Lyme disease had symptoms of ADHD than those in the control group, using the AD/HD Self=Report Scale (ASRS). The differences were significant for symptoms of inattentiveness and hyperactivity, as well as for combinations of the two.

Neuropsychiatric Symptoms of Chronic Lyme Disease

Chronic Lyme disease symptoms include cognitive deficits as well as symptoms of fatigue, dysythmia, generalized anxiety, major depression and somatization. Fatigue and pain are also symptoms of ADHD and this condition is thought to be underdiagnosed in adults, meaning that many could be suffering with disparate symptoms and simply turn to a diagnosis of Chronic Lyme disease to explain them and give them a course of action. There remain many physicians unconvinced of the existence of Chronic Lyme disease, whereas acute Lyme disease is largely uncontroversial. The neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with Chronic Lyme disease are often those cited as causing the most problems for patients, with a similar phenomenon to ‘fibro fog’ described by many Chronic Lyme disease sufferers.

Assessing Lyme Disease Patients for ADHD

adhd symptoms lyme disease

Depression, anxiety, and cognitive problems can all be symptoms of ADHD and Lyme Disease.

This research suggests that patients diagnosed with Chronic Lyme disease may be helped by undergoing assessment for ADHD and given appropriate treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder if they receive such a diagnosis. The pain, fatigue, and cognitive deficits that many put down to Chronic Lyme disease may be relieved by such an approach, but it is probably wise to remain cautious about drawing swift conclusions from the survey results, especially given more recent research suggesting that seronegative chronic Lyme disease may actually be an undiagnosed infection with a newly uncovered viral agent transmitted by tick bite.

Caution Over Lyme Disease and ADHD Diagnosis

Such surveys can lead people to increase their reports of psychiatric complaints and previous studies appear to have observed problems with memory, processing speed, and verbal fluency in patients with Chronic Lyme disease, rather than problems with attention. Depression is, however, associated with attention difficulties and many of those finally diagnosed with Chronic Lyme disease have faced considerable challenges in getting that diagnosis, which could lead to depression, anxiety, and reduced capacity to attend to new information and stimulus. It is not simply the case, despite this latest research, that all patients with Chronic Lyme disease have undiagnosed ADHD, although some may be helped by exploring their symptoms further, perhaps even discovering that they have both Chronic Lyme disease and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The American Psychiatric Association’s 2012 Annual Meeting. Abstract NR8-30. Presented May 8, 2012.

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