People with Lyme Disease often get told their symptoms are in their heads. The reason it may seem this way is that they are — but not in the way people think. Lyme Disease can actually affect the brain and other parts of the nervous system, causing a variety of neurological symptoms.
Lyme is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is usually transmitted through ticks. These ticks also tend to carry a number of other bacteria known as Lyme co-infections, like Bartonella and Babesia. When these bacteria infect the nervous system, the infection is called neuroborreliosis, Timothy J. Sellati, PhD, Global Lyme Alliance chief scientific officer, tells Bustle. This often happens in the later stages of the disease, when it has the chance to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Neuroborreliosis can be diagnosed through a combination of symptoms, physical examination, Lyme tests like the Western Blot and enzyme immunoassay tests, and detection of anti-Borrelia antibodies in cerebrospinal fluid. Up to one in 10 Lyme cases involve neurological symptoms, says Sellati.
"The root cause of symptoms associated with neuroborreliosis is inflammation in the brain," he says. "The bacterium that causes the disease can replicate and damage the peripheral nervous system and cross the blood-brain barrier to invade the central nervous system." Additional neurological symptoms may stem from inflammation due to activity of the immune system, Chirag Shah, MD, medical reviewer at PollMed, tells Bustle.
Lyme often goes undiagnosed or gets misdiagnosed, so if you're experiencing the following symptoms (especially along with other symptoms of Lyme Disease, like rashes, neck stiffness, and joint pain), consider asking your doctor about being tested for Lyme.