Wrapped up in Lyme disease quackery is the idea of chronic Lyme disease, which is a very real condition for some but is also used as a catch-all by some physicians unable to determine the actual reason for a patient’s symptoms. Articles published in recent years in the New England Journal of Medicine have drawn attention to the worrying incidence of chronic Lyme disease diagnosis despite there being no clear diagnostic criteria for such an illness. The general scientific consensus is that a post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome exists and may be considered responsible for symptoms including joint pain, neurological dysfunction, and fatigue amongst other things. The concept of a persistent infection with Lyme disease bacteria is not widely supported in medical circles however, and clinical trials looking at the use of long-term antibiotic treatments for patients diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease found that the therapy caused more harm than good.
Dangers of Misdiagnosis and Lyme Disease Quackery
Chronic Lyme disease quackery allows vague symptoms to be ascribed to a single illness that is diagnosed through exclusion of other diseases and conditions. This can be dangerous for patients in a number of ways, with potentially serious complications arising as patients go untreated for weeks, months, or even years whilst suffering an alternative condition simply lumped in with Lyme disease. Lyme disease has been called the ‘great mimic’ as the symptoms can be so varied and make diagnosis difficult as the condition can look like multiple sclerosis, arthritis, gout, lupus, and even Alzheimer’s Disease or schizophrenia in some patients. Resorting to a definition of chronic Lyme disease without there ever being evidence of infection and determining any new symptoms to be part of this vague condition can mean that patients miss out on early intervention for diseases such as MS which are more difficult to treat as they progress.
Lyme Disease Advocacy
It is understandable that many are angry about the denial of chronic Lyme disease as a genuine illness affecting hundreds, if not thousands of people each year in the US. Patients have struggled for years to achieve recognition of conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, and Lyme disease has, unfortunately, come to be associated with a similar pattern of denial, overdiagnosis, misdiagnosis, and poor treatment of patients. Where patients are wrongly diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease by quack doctors, the struggle becomes even harder for those patients with a treatable illness or infection who are simply disregarded as troublesome complainers with no real grievance. Both patients and doctors have a responsibility to recognize the ‘symptoms of life’ that affect most people at some point in their lives and increasingly so as we age; such symptoms include aches and pains, tiredness, and mild forgetfulness, but are not, necessarily, connected to any illness or abnormality.
Chasing A Diagnosis and a Cure
A lack of a diagnosis, or an undesirable diagnosis of an untreatable condition is arguably harder to cope with than a diagnosis of an infection with the promise of a cure. The demand for a specific diagnosis is understandable but can be unhelpful in the long-run as patients risk new symptoms being overlooked as part of a general pattern of complaint or unnecessary worry. In some cases the vague ailments diagnosed as chronic Lyme disease may be connected to simple sleep disruption which can worsen as the patient becomes more and more stressed by the diagnostic process and the thought that they are suffering from a disease that is being denied and for which there is no cure. Chronic sleep deprivation affects memory, concentration, fatigue, weight gain and loss, muscle repair and recovery and, therefore, muscle strength, and even predisposes a person to depression, and anxiety.
Syphilis, Lyme Disease and Logical Fallacies
Syphilis was the ‘great mimic’ blamed for numerous ailments in the early to mid 20th Century and it is similar to Lyme disease in both bacterial structure and symptoms. The vague symptoms affecting multiple bodily systems, often intermittently, meant that many complaints were attributed to chronic syphilis, especially by quacks at the time. Some cases of bizarre symptoms do turn out to be caused by syphilis or Lyme disease but the path to this diagnosis cannot be followed backwards in order to attribute all bizarre symptoms to these spirochaetal infections. Lyme disease quackery causes very real suffering in itself and although many Lyme advocates are working for better recognition of the illness and encouraging doctors to consider it as a diagnosis more frequently than they currently seem to, there are an unfortunate few who are inadvertently devaluing the diagnosis through Lyme disease quackery, wishful thinking, or a mixture of the two.
To support the hypothesis of an epidemic of chronic Lyme disease there are some companies which offer testing for Lyme disease that is inaccurate, imprecise, and which oftentimes results in a referral to a sister company selling a Lyme disease cure. Lyme disease doctors may have fallen prey to the invisible dragon fallacy and fail to apply Occam’s Razor, the principle that the simplest explanation is usually the most accurate. The invisible dragon in this case is Lyme disease, which a physician may consider as presenting atypically in a patient, being seronegative on Lyme disease tests, and which does not improve with standard treatments. The simplest explanation then, in the absence of any actual evidence of Lyme disease, is that the patient is not suffering from Lyme disease at all. The answer according to Lyme disease quackery however, is that the patient is suffering from an undetectable infection which can never be resolved because there is no way of proving its eradication without having evidence of its initial existence.
Feder, H.M., Jr., Johnson, B.J.B., O’Connell, S., Shapiro, E.D., Steere, A.C., Wormser, G.P., and the Ad Hoc International Lyme Disease Group. 2007. A Critical Appraisal of “Chronic Lyme Disease. Volume 357:1422-1430 October 4, Number 14.
Sigal, L.H., Hassett, A.L.. 2002. Contributions of societal and geographical environments to “chronic Lyme disease”: the psychopathogenesis and aporology of a new “medically unexplained symptoms” syndrome. Environ Health Perspect 110: suppl 4607–611.
Sigal, L.H., Hassett, A.L., 2003. Chronic Lyme Disease: Sigal and Hassett’s Response. Environ Health Perspect 111:a77-a77.