Diagnosis of Lyme Disease: How is it Performed?

November 1, 2023

Lyme disease, or an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, is transmitted to humans through an infected black-legged tick bite. This disease affects individuals in various ways, and the severity of symptoms can vary. Moreover, the symptoms you experience can vary widely as well, which is why Lyme Disease is often misdiagnosed, and an especially good reason to see a specialist who can properly diagnose your symptoms.

Early detection of Lyme Disease allows healthcare professionals to administer appropriate Lyme Disease treatments promptly, which can reduce the risk of the infection spreading and help to alleviate your symptoms.

In this blog, follow along as we explore the key aspects of Lyme disease diagnosis, guiding you through the details of the examination process and how to tell whether your doctor is providing you with the best care.

Common Testing Methods to Diagnose Lyme Disease

Healthcare professionals will commonly rely on several well-known tests to diagnose Lyme disease, including the following:

Enzyme Immunoassay (EIA) or Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA)

This is a standard initial Lyme disease testing used. It detects antibodies produced by the immune system in response to the presence of Borrelia burgdorfer, or the bacteria causing Lyme disease. 

Western Blot Test

If the EIA or ELISA test shows a positive result, a Western blot test is usually conducted to confirm the diagnosis. This test detects specific antibodies against various proteins of Borrelia burgdorferi. A positive Western blot result is more specific for Lyme disease.

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Test

PCR testing is used to detect the genetic material of the Lyme disease bacterium in samples such as blood, joint fluid, or cerebrospinal fluid. PCR is more valuable in the early stages of infection when antibodies are yet to be detectable.

Lyme Disease Culture Test

A culture test for Lyme disease involves culturing the bacteria from a sample (such as blood or cerebrospinal fluid). It can be done in specialized laboratories, but it is rarely used due to the difficulty of culturing Borrelia burgdorferi.

Note: It’s important to note that no single test is foolproof, and a combination of clinical evaluation, patient history, and laboratory tests is often employed for an accurate diagnosis.

The Accuracy and Limitations of Lyme Disease Tests

Despite being valuable tools in the diagnostic process, Lyme disease tests have certain limitations that can affect their accuracy. Here are some key points regarding the accuracy and limitations of Lyme disease tests:

  • False negatives in early infection: Antibody levels may not be detectable early, leading to false negatives and untreated Lyme disease. This is particularly true in the first few weeks after infection when the immune response is still developing.
  • Limitations of serologic tests: The initial Lyme disease screening involving EIA or ELISA followed by a Western blot test can produce false positives or negatives. This is particularly true as the interpretation of Western blot results can be subjective.
  • Varying test sensitivity: The sensitivity of Lyme disease testing can differ between test types and laboratories. This increases the likelihood that a negative test result is positive when tested with other methods and in different laboratories.
  • Complexity of Lyme disease symptoms: Lyme disease symptoms include headaches, dizziness, and joint pain, also seen in other diseases. This complicates Lyme disease detection as a diagnosis often depends on clinical evaluation and excluding other possible causes.
  • Geographic variation: The prevalence of Lyme disease and the types of Borrelia species can vary by geographic region. Some tests may be more effective in certain areas than others.

The Importance of Working With A Lyme Disease Specialist

As previously mentioned, virtually all known Lyme disease testing methods and tools have limitations. This means they often can’t be the sole benchmark for diagnosing the disease, especially with chronic Lyme. False positive and false negative results are common, so if only a single test for Lyme is performed, a patient may not receive an accurate diagnosis. This means healthcare providers may need to utilize a combination of testing approaches such as ELISA, western blot, PCR, and antigen assays to accurately determine if a patient has Lyme disease. Additionally, a healthcare provider should be familiar with current Lyme disease guidelines, and carefully consider a patient’s medical history and current symptoms when determining a Lyme diagnosis.

For all these reasons and more, it’s wise to consider seeking the help of an established Lyme Disease specialist who has the skills, expertise, and training needed to properly diagnose your condition. A Lyme disease specialist will not only rely on the test results but also objectively assess your symptoms, to provide a comprehensive and accurate diagnosis that will help you get the treatment you need.

Get a Comprehensive Lyme Disease Diagnosis at Sierra Integrative Medical Center!

If you suspect you have Lyme disease and are looking for a specialist for a proper diagnosis, Sierra Integrative Medical Center, located in Reno, Nevada, can help. Our Lyme doctors know the ins and outs of this complex and debilitating condition and can provide comprehensive Lyme disease diagnosis and treatment

Our specialists will carefully assess your condition and build a customized treatment plan to address the full range of your Lyme Disease symptoms and other associated health issues. We understand that living with Lyme Disease is more than just a physical issue, and our team is here to provide comprehensive care that addresses the multiple dimensions of your wellness needs. From medical testing to traditional and advanced therapies to nutrition and lifestyle support, our Lyme-literate doctors can work with you every step of the way as you navigate your journey toward recovery.

Contact us today to schedule your initial Lyme Disease consultation.