*** I am not a medical expert. There is excellent information about Lyme Disease available at ILADS.***
Prevalence & Misdiagnoses
What does Lyme Disease have to do with running? When Runners World does a cover story on it, you know there is a connection. The number of reported cases is increasing and experts believe the illness is far more common than has been diagnosed. Lyme is frequently misdiagnosed as everything from chronic fatigue to fibromyalgia to multiple sclerosis. The symptoms of Lyme can easily be misinterpreted by runners as merely a sign of overtraining, and ignored for too long.
Why is accurate diagnosis so hard?
- Ticks are tiny and easily missed on the body.
- Not everyone gets a bull's-eye rash.
- The diagnostic tests often come back negative, especially in the early stages of the disease when treatment is most effective.
- Lyme looks like many other diseases, and is so easy to misdiagnose.
It saddens me to say that I don't have enough fingers and toes to count all of the close friends and family I have who have battled or are battling Lyme. (and yes, I have all 20 of my digits for those who are wondering...) Some of them were lucky and they were diagnosed and treated early and have had no further symptoms. Some are not so lucky, having been misdiagnosed for years and are now suffering from chronic symptoms. One has just finished a year-long treatment for Neurologic Lyme. The disease can be devastating; it is worthwhile to educate yourself and take precautions to protect yourself.
There are steps you can take to minimize the likelihood of (1) being bitten by a tick, (2) having a tick stay on you for 24-48 hours, and/or (3) being misdiagnosed if you do contract Lyme disease.
It isn't realistic to avoid areas with ticks.Once thought to only be in wooded areas, ticks are now showing up in our backyards and other unexpected places. To avoid being bitten:
- Wear light-colored, long sleeves and pants tucked into socks when feasible, especially in wooded-areas
- Use effective bug spray. The CDC recommends products with DEET. A more natural, and potentially more effective, alternative is Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent (highly rated by Consumer Reports).
- Have your yard treated to control ticks. In Northern Virginia, Backyard Bug Patrol is an excellent option.
Ways to avoid having a tick stay on you for long enough to infect you with Lyme:
- Check for ticks after you've been outdoors. You need help with this - there are places on your body you can't see yourself, like your back and scalp! Get in the habit of doing thorough tick checks with your family, and remember to check carefully everywhere. Some ticks are tiny - poppy seed tiny - and these are the ones most often carrying Lyme.
- Wash clothes in HOT water as soon as you can to kill any passenger ticks.
- Take a shower as soon as you can and scrub with a rough loofah.
Ways to avoid being misdiagnosed or diagnosed too late:
- Don't wait to see the doctor - if you think you may have Lyme get it checked out.
- Be your own advocate if the test comes back negative but you still feel off, or if you get diagnosed with something else - chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis - that doesn't seem right. Get a second opinion. See another doctor. Consider contacting ILADS to find a "lyme literate" doctor. The earlier Lyme is caught, the greater the likelihood it can be effectively treated.
- In the DC area, Jemsek Specialty Clinic is highly recommended.
Good luck and stay safe!