Being diagnosed with Lyme disease can take a toll on mental health, study finds

Key points to remember

  • Patients diagnosed with Lyme disease have a 28% higher rate of mental disorders, new research shows.
  • As a condition, it can cause various long term cognitive and psychological side effects.
  • The researchers hope the findings will encourage both patients and doctors to watch for psychiatric symptoms resulting from the disease, especially the first year after diagnosis.

Early in her illness, Jocelyn Francis began to experience flu-like symptoms, tremors, tremors, chronic fatigue and brain fog.

“I was just totally exhausted and it was all a real struggle,” Francis, a 47-year-old non-ferrous trader from the UK, told Verywell. The doctors decided to do some blood work, but it wasn’t until a rash appeared on his leg that his GP diagnosed him with Lyme disease and prescribed him a three-week course of antibiotics. doxycycline.

“I continued to feel horrible for most of those three weeks and started to fear that I would never get over it,” Francis says. “It was probably the most terrifying thing I have ever encountered. There were days when I thought my life would never be the same. I was a wreck.

She said she felt like her whole life was about to fall apart and she had no control. Even joining online communities didn’t give her any respite, as most of the posts were about people struggling with their symptoms, which also negatively impacted her mental health.

Now, new research reveals Francis isn’t the only one diagnosed with Lyme disease.

Patients diagnosed with Lyme disease have a 28% higher rate of mental disorders, and are twice as likely to attempt suicide, compared to people who have not been diagnosed with the disease, according to published research in the American Journal of Psychiatry last month.

This research is among the first studies of this scale to explore the relationship between Lyme disease and mental health. His findings encourage both patients and physicians to watch for psychiatric symptoms resulting from the disease, especially the first year after diagnosis.

A diagnosis of Lyme disease

Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is a disease caused by bacteria that humans can contract if they are bitten by blacklegged ticks found on deer. In the United States, approximately 476,000 people are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease each year, which may be an overestimate based on a presumptive diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease manifests itself in several ways and therefore can be difficult to diagnose, especially at the onset. Typical symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Tired
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Eruption

“Lyme disease in most people is a mild illness accompanied by an expanding rash,” lead study author Brian Fallon, MD, director of the Center for Neuroinflammatory Disorders and Biobehavioral, told Verywell. Medicine. “When caught and treated early with antibiotics, most people don’t develop other problems.”

There can be some complications, however.

“However, when the Lyme disease agent spreads through the body, it can lead to pain syndromes such as meningitis, radiculitis or arthritis,” said Fallon, also director of Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases. Columbia University Research Center says. “Or it can lead to heart conduction problems or inflammation of the heart muscle.”

Although most cases can be treated with antibiotic treatment for up to a month, up to 20% of patients have persistent symptoms. Some continue to experience fatigue, brain fog, and more for years after diagnosis. In some cases, the physical functional impairment is comparable to that of patients with congestive heart failure. Other studies have noted a correlation between Lyme disease and cognitive impairment up to years after treatment for Lyme disease.

Francis, for example, says she was fortunate enough to receive an early diagnosis. But it’s not always the case.

“It’s been over 14 years. Doctors couldn’t help me or tell me anything about my future, ”Jennifer Stone, a 38-year-old restaurant worker from West Virginia, told Verywell. This feeling of uncertainty is a major factor in the decline of an individual’s mental health.

“Of course, I got very depressed and desperate,” Stone says. “The craziest thoughts are going through your mind. I went so far as to ask my husband for a divorce so I didn’t have to burden him anymore.

Stone, when asked about the latest statistics from the American Journal of Psychiatry research, says she is not surprised.

“The fact that an infection of spirochete origin can pass itself off as a mental disorder was first proposed in the United States by a neurologist, when he called Lyme disease a new big imitator, at the sequel to the original great imitator of syphilis, ”Fallon adds. “It was less clear whether people with Lyme disease, in general, may also be at increased risk for mental disorders and suicidal behaviors. ”

What it means for you

If you or someone you know has depression and is unsure of where to go for help, call the SAMHSA National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357). It is confidential, free and operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is available in English and Spanish. If you call this helpline, they can direct you to local treatment centers, support groups, and other organizations.

Lyme disease wreaks havoc on mental health

To answer these questions, the Fallon team of researchers looked at the medical records of nearly 7 million people living in Denmark over a 22-year period. They analyzed mental health data from patients diagnosed with Lyme disease in hospital settings.

Patients who had previously had a history of mental disorders or suicidal tendencies were excluded from the analysis. This information was then crossed with mental health data from patients who had never been diagnosed with Lyme disease.

“Based on the earlier, smaller studies and case reports, we expected that Lyme disease might be associated with later mental health issues in some of the people who experienced long-term symptoms,” Michael Benros, MD, PhD, study author and professor of immuno-psychiatry at the University of Copenhagen, tells Verywell.

This survey found that Lyme disease patients have a 42% higher rate of affective disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder, and a 75% higher suicide death rate. Additionally, if patients have been diagnosed with more than one episode of Lyme disease, the rates are even higher.

“Although we have observed an increased risk, the absolute risk of the population is thankfully low, which means most do not develop serious mental health problems after Lyme borreliosis,” said Benros, who is also responsible. of Biological and Precision Psychiatry at the Copenhagen Mental Health Center. .

However, the researchers agree that these numbers would likely be higher if mental health issues that did not require hospital visits could also have been included.

The researchers also noted that, for example, certain species of ticks can elicit more robust host inflammatory responses than others. Since inflammation can lead to depression, it is possible that altered mental health is a more common characteristic associated with Lyme disease in some areas more than others.

Starting to answer questions like these sets the stage for even more research in the field. Overall, these findings are emblematic of a trend in Lyme disease cases that should not be overlooked, the researchers point out.

“Clinicians and treating patients should be aware of an increased risk of mental health problems,” says Benros. “If mental health issues arise, patients should seek appropriate treatment and counseling. “

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