Lyme disease is a complicated infection caused by bacteria that is typically transmitted from a tick or insect bite. Its symptoms vary based on the health of your immune system, so two people could be bitten by the same insect carrying Borrelia burgdorferi, a corkscrew-shaped bacterium known to cause the disease, and respond very differently. For this reason, proper and accurate testing is essential.
If you feel as though you may have Lyme based on the symptoms listed in my last blog post, and you’re struggling with your health, the next step is to find a practitioner that is familiar with testing, diagnosing, and managing the disease. This is VERY important.
A doctor who hasn’t been trained to treat Lyme may not be aware of all the testing and treatment options available.
As a general rule, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a two-step blood testing process for Lyme disease. The first test is ELISA, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test. This test can detect antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi. But because it misses 35% of Lyme cases (1) and can sometimes provide false positives, the CDC also recommends the Western Blot test.
The Western Blot test detects two types of antibodies to several proteins of Borrelia burgdorferi, IgG, and IgM. These antibodies are your body’s protection against harmful bacteria. The presence of IgM can be an indication of early-stage Lyme disease, while IgG could be indicative of longer term, chronic exposure. It is important to test for the presence of both.
While the two-step process can help with accuracy, neither test considers the uniqueness of Lyme disease and the various strands of bacteria that can cause it, so many cases of Lyme disease go undiagnosed and untreated.
Fortunately, there is another option.
Instead of having blood work sent to a conventional lab, I recommend a company called IGeneX. This company has been around for decades and is at the forefront of testing and treating the disease. They are able to test for 13 different strains of bacteria that can cause Lyme disease and look at the specifics of each one.
Also, instead of just testing for Lyme disease, I recommend testing for co-infections. Ticks can carry many different strains of bacteria, viruses, and fungi all at the same time and transmit them in a single bite. The most common of these are: babesia, bartonella, ehrlichiosis, relapsing fever, tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). Diseases acquired together like this are called co-infections.
Since Lyme disease weakens the immune system, it’s not uncommon for individuals with Lyme disease to have at least one co-infection.
In fact, a study conducted in 2014 with 3,000 patients with Lyme disease found that over 50% had co-infections; 30% reporting two or more (2)
Co-infections can be tested using the Western Blot test. If this test comes back with a negative result, however, I recommend confirming the results with a urinalysis test called PCR, or polarized chain reaction. This test examines the DNA to look for traces of bacteria that could cause co-infections.
Finally, the last thing I recommend when attempting to diagnose this disease is checking a marker called CD57. This marker assesses the strength of the immunes system and shows whether or not your body is actively fighting the bacteria associated with Lyme disease or any coinfections.
Testing for and diagnosing Lyme disease is not easy, nor is it black and white.
If you’ve been told that you’re negative after more conventional testing, but you’re experiencing symptoms that indicate you may have it, I recommend requesting a second round of testing, blood tests as well as DNA and urine testing so your doctor or healthcare practitioner has a full scope view of what is happening in your body.
Having the right testing makes a huge difference and working with someone who knows how to order and read these tests is essential in order to provide proper treatment.