Similarities of Lyme and MS
The geography of MS incidence and that of Lyme disease are startlingly similar when seen on Lyme disease maps which has led some to believe that they are being misdiagnosed, are directly connected, or share a common factor in their development. Some of the symptoms of Lyme disease and MS are also very similar, such as visual disturbances, peripheral neuropathy, cognitive defects, and fatigue. A number of patients diagnosed with MS have later discovered that their symptoms were due to infection with Borrelia and that antibiotic treatment successfully resolved those symptoms they were initially told were due to a chronic incurable disease. Many Lyme disease forums detail patients’ stories involving lengthy battles for the correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
The Danger of Misdiagnosing MS or Lyme Disease
A number of those involved in Lyme disease advocacy have expressed concern that MS patients are incurring significant medical costs and undergoing potentially dangerous treatments for a disease they do not have because a chronic condition is more profitable for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry than an infection that can be treated with relatively inexpensive antibiotics. The use of immunomodulators in patients diagnosed with MS but who are actually suffering from undiagnosed Lyme disease is particularly worrisome as any medication, such as prednisone, which lowers immune function may allow Borrelia infection to spread unchecked, thereby making it more difficult to treat once recognized.
Describing Multiple Sclerosis
One difficulty facing those managing the treatment of patients with MS is the very nomenclature used when referring to the condition. Multiple sclerosis is a descriptive term meaning ‘many lesions’, although it is recognized as being a disease in its own right. The most commonly credited pathology of MS is that an abnormal immune response leads the body to attack its own nerve-cell insulation (the myelin sheaths), thereby adversely affecting nerve signal transmission. Other conditions, such as an infection with syphilis or Lyme disease, can also cause demyelination, resulting in neurological symptoms. The difference, perhaps, is that the condition diagnosed as MS is often progressive and irreversible, whereas damage caused by a bacterial infection may be able to repair itself once the infection is cleared successfully.
Lyme Disease, MS, and Inflammation
Although clinical findings from cerebrospinal fluid and MRI scans of Lyme disease and MS patients may be difficult to distinguish in terms of inflammatory markers and brain or spinal cord lesions, serological tests for Lyme disease may help differentiate the two conditions. Bearing in mind that many of those infected with Lyme disease bacteria do not remember a tick bite or experience early stage Lyme disease symptoms such as erythema migrans or a flu-like illness, patients presenting with symptoms common to MS and Lyme disease neuroborreliosis may warrant testing for antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi. Administering powerful immunomodulators is an important part of the treatment strategy in early MS intervention but can be extremely detrimental to a patient with an undiagnosed infection such as Borrelia. Numerous researchers over recent decades have identified Borrelia spirochaetes in the brain tissue of MS patients during autopsies, along with patients dying from many other causes such as heart complications, which casts some doubt on the veracity of the figures given for Lyme disease deaths. The connection between Lyme disease and MS is complex but appears to warrant further investigation if improvements are to be made in diagnosing and treating neurological illness.
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