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Lyme Neuroborreliosis, Bipolar Disorder, and Other Cognitive Symptoms

lyme psychiatric symptoms

Could Lyme disease land you in the psychiatrist's office?

Lyme disease that affects the central nervous system could result in psychiatric symptoms that confound physicians. According to a 2002 study carried out with over 900 people admitted to a psychiatric centre, 33% of the psychiatric patients tested had antibodies to Lyme disease, compared to just 19% of a similar sized control group without psychiatric symptoms.

So, is Lyme disease the direct cause of psychological symptoms or is it the stress of having Lyme disease (and having no one believe you) that results in a diagnosis of depression, mania, bipolar disorder, or even schizophrenia?

Lyme disease can be a complicated illness, causing various symptoms that are inconsistent, temporary, cyclical, and seemingly unconnected. Proving that you have Lyme disease can be difficult, and many patients spend months, if not years, being assessed for all manner of diseases and conditions before anyone even suggests a test for the infection.

Cognitive and Mental Health Issues Linked to Lyme

Having your symptoms doubted, not knowing why you feel ill, and never quite knowing when to expect symptoms to return can obviously cause immense stress, and it seems that psychiatric symptoms often arise associated with Lyme disease in people with no prior history of mental illness. Fallon and Nields (1994) have linked Lyme disease with:

  • Major depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Dementia
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder

Others have also linked Lyme disease with Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s Disease. Of course, these conditions may develop independently of Lyme disease, as well as being caused by the stress of chronic illness, or the infection itself. Lending support for the latter theory, it seems tht patients with Lyme disease often have decreased blood flow (perfusion) in a number of areas in the cortex and subcortical white matter.

Neuroborreliosis Symptom

Symptoms connected to neuroborreliosis may include:

  • Headache and neck ache
  • Encephalomyelitis and facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy)
  • Loss of sensation / paraesthesia / tingling, numbness, pain
  • Schizophrenia-like psychosis
  • Meningitis
  • Dizziness, vertigo
  • Tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears)
  • Acute sensitivity to light and noise
  • Radiculitis
  • Drooping shoulders
  • Urinary incontinence or retention
  • Cranial neuritis (resulting in double vision or other visual disturbance)
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Gastrointestinal disturbance
  • Excessive fatigue

Worryingly, as cases of Lyme disease appear to increase due to the spread of ticks, so do misdiagnoses resulting in improper treatment and even death from Lyme disease. In cases where a condition like MS or arthritis is suspected, patients may be prescribed steroids to try to alleviate symptoms. As these suppress the immune system this leaves patients with an infection more vulnerable to the spread of that infection, making symptoms even harder to shake.

Early Neuro-Lyme Disease

Early symptoms of Lyme may include flu-like illness, the bull’s-eye rash and joint pain, along with cardiac or neurological issues. In early stage Lyme disease the infection can usually be treated with antibiotics before any lasting tissue damage occurs.

Some patients report issues with memory, information processing, verbal fluency, dyslexia, visual processing and spatial awareness (resulting in disorganisation and losing things or getting lost), impaired abstract reasoning, poor concentration, and decreased ability to follow conversations. Clearly these symptoms then impair a person’s ability to navigate complex medical institutions and processes, which may impede a timely diagnosis.

Psychiatrists may be the first line of medical attention that a patient with neurolyme encounters, meaning that it is essential for mental health professionals to have a basic knowledge of Lyme disease and how it can manifest. Sleep disorders, delirium, mood swings, manic episodes, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and a range of other symptoms may arise connected with Lyme disease, all of which can adversely affect a person’s ability to advocate for their health and wellbeing.

Children, Lyme Disease, and Mental Health

Even some children are at risk of being diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s syndrome, or attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, resulting in the use of medications, the removal of them from mainstream education, and an increased level of stress for both them and their caregivers.

Anyone living in a Lyme-endemic area who experiences uncharacteristic and unprecedented psychiatric symptoms may, therefore, be wise to consider being tested for Lyme disease in addition to accessing appropriate psychiatric care.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Carol April 14, 2014, 9:59 am

    I was diagnosed in 2006 with Lyme Disease.
    One of my doctors was using some kind of biofeedback on me without my permission
    I told his partner as I had already complained to the Healthcare commission NHS
    About another doctor. So I recognised the effects.
    I was removed to another practice. Where I discussed what had happened
    after 3 months I realised he too was using something.
    He pretended I had harassed him. My GP notes went missing.
    This breaks the freedom of information act.
    I was sent to another practice by the PCT.
    Had to then but my antibiotics on the internet.
    I was then returned to the doctor who lost my notes practice
    his partner said there was no record of me having Lyme Disease
    she refused to prescribe me antibiotics.
    I did have a copy of the test I had done in Holland.
    My husband died in 2009 of heart disease whether Lyme had something
    to do with it? I asked the coroner to take a blood sample.
    They were more interested I might of killed him.
    I got bitten all over the next day by Tick.
    There were bites all over my body.
    I call my GP she was still insistent it was a virus.
    I then called the ambulance.
    I was bright red and had a high temperature and blood pressure.
    I was left in A and E ward for 3 days.
    They did not give me anything either.
    I couldn’t breathe.
    I was transferred to a psychiatric hospital where psychiatrists
    tried to convince me I was delusions schizophrenic.
    I was fitting and had chest pain.
    Then on 2012 A and E did it again.
    I complained several times
    A and E said it was my GP’s fault.
    The psychiatrist said he was only doing as he was told.
    I complained to the healthcare Ombusman NHS they decided to
    do nothing.
    By which time I even have 3 positive bloods saying I have Lyme Disease.
    2 from the US and one from Holland.
    I have now possibly have got Lyme Carditis.
    Two doctors within the NHS said I had asthma and my GP and
    A and E.
    my Lyme Doctor says I had heart failure.
    He and another doctor in the practice who trained in heart
    Disease both listened to my chest back in Sep. 13
    I was sent to my GP.
    I had to wait to see a cardiologist he said there was nothing wrong.
    Nothing has shown on a CT or a Echocardiogram.
    I now to have another test. Rather than treat me with intravenous
    I am just being left with muscle spasms and chest pain.
    The Lyme obviously moves from place to place.
    I just had a series of chest infections as well.
    So I have changed my antibiotics. It has made a difference.
    My immune system had been getting worse.
    I can hardly climbs the stairs. Or walk between my chair and the bed.
    The NHS still think I make it up.
    My private doctor said he will back me in court as to how the NHS has treated me.

    • River Walker May 28, 2014, 4:08 am

      Here in the states my niece has experienced a similar path of hardship because of inferior Lyme test and Lyme ignorant physicians. Now, due to the persistence of my sister in law, these physicians know that she has Lyme. You are correct that the bacteria is fastidious and it moves from organ to organ. Wherever it can thrive. Doxycycline and IVIG (immune globulin) are the treatments that have helped to eradicate almost all of the bacteria from my niece’s body. I will keep you in my prayers and pray that you are understood and believed and that those ignorant physicians are schooled in the knowledge about Lyme and how terrible the disease is. I know it’s not in you head; it’s in your body. Peace and blessings of wellness to you.

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