Why Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lyme Disease Are Getting Misdiagnosed for Each Other
RA and Lyme disease are very different medical conditions and each one requires a different form of treatment. However, they do share common symptoms, which is why they are getting misdiagnosed for each other. In fact, some individuals call Lyme disease “the great imitator” because it can be confused with a number of other conditions, including multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, food poisoning, depression, and many more.
Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is an infectious disease caused by Borrelia type bacteria, which is spread by ticks. Ticks become infected with this type of bacteria after feeding on infected mice or deer. The most common sign of Lyme disease is an area of skin redness at the site of the tick bite that is seen to be spreading outward. Other symptoms of the infectious disease include fever, fatigue, headache, chills, stiff neck, as well as joint and muscle pain. Lyme disease is quite common in children, older adults, and people who spend most of their time outdoors, such as park rangers.
So, what are some of the other reasons as to why Lyme disease is sometimes diagnosed as RA?
- In the early stages of Lyme disease, the results of blood tests for the Borrelia bacteria may come back normal.
- The results of blood tests for Lyme disease can indicate elevated serum rheumatoid factor.
- Healthcare professionals who are not educated on Lyme disease may assume that they are seeing RA symptoms when it comes to stiff and swollen joints.
- Some people never develop the bullseye rash or they do not remember having a rash because it is painless.
Lyme disease as a risk for RA
A study conducted in 2016 found that systemic arthritis can also occur after a Lyme diagnosis, and that a history of Lyme disease can be mistaken for the real diagnosis of an autoimmune disorder such as RA. “Making the distinction isn’t always easy,” said Sheila Arvikar, rheumatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Read more to learn about the link between Lyme disease and RA.