Lyme Disease Tests: MedlinePlus Lab Test Information

 

What are Lyme disease tests?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria carried by ticks. Lyme disease tests look for signs of infection in your blood or cerebrospinal fluid.

You can get Lyme disease if an infected tick bites you. Ticks can bite you anywhere on your body, but they usually bite in hard-to-see parts of your body such as the groin, scalp, and armpits. The ticks that cause Lyme disease are tiny, as small as a speck of dirt. So you may not know you have been bitten.

If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause serious health problems affecting your joints, heart, and nervous system. But if diagnosed early, most cases of Lyme disease can be cured after a few weeks of treatment with antibiotics.

Other names: Lyme antibodies detection, Borrelia burgdorferi antibodies test, Borrelia DNA Detection, IgM/IgG by Western Blot, Lyme disease test (CSF), Borrelia antibodies, IgM/IgG

What are they used for?

Lyme disease tests are used to find out if you have a Lyme disease infection.

Why do I need a Lyme disease test?

You may need a Lyme disease test if you have symptoms of infection. The first symptoms of Lyme disease usually show up between three and 30 days after the tick bite. They may include:

You may also need a Lyme disease test if you don’t have symptoms, but are at risk for infection. You may be at a higher risk if you:

  • Recently removed a tick from your body
  • Walked in a heavily wooded area, where ticks live, without covering exposed skin or wearing repellent
  • Have done either of the above activities and live in or have recently visited the northeast or midwestern areas of the United States, where most Lyme disease cases occur

Lyme disease is most treatable in its early stages, but you may still benefit from testing later on. Symptoms that may show up weeks or months after the tick bite. They may include:

  • Severe headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Severe joint pain and swelling
  • Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Memory and sleep disorders

What happens during Lyme disease testing?

Lyme disease testing is usually done with your blood or cerebrospinal fluid.

For a Lyme disease blood test:

  • A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.

If you have symptoms of Lyme disease affecting your nervous system, such as neck stiffness and numbness in hands or feet, you may need a test of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is a clear liquid found in your brain and spinal cord. During this test, your CSF will be collected through a procedure called a lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap. During the procedure:

  • You will lie on your side or sit on an exam table.
  • A health care provider will clean your back and inject an anesthetic into your skin, so you won’t feel pain during the procedure. Your provider may put a numbing cream on your back before this injection.
  • Once the area on your back is completely numb, your provider will insert a thin, hollow needle between two vertebrae in your lower spine. Vertebrae are the small backbones that make up your spine.
  • Your provider will withdraw a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid for testing. This will take about five minutes.
  • You’ll need to stay very still while the fluid is being withdrawn.
  • Your provider may ask you to lie on your back for an hour or two after the procedure. This may prevent you from getting a headache afterward.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You don’t need any special preparations for a Lyme disease blood test.

For a lumbar puncture, you may be asked to empty your bladder and bowels before the test.

Are there any risks to Lyme disease tests?

There is very little risk to having a blood test or a lumbar puncture. If you had a blood test, you may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly. If you had a lumbar puncture, you may have pain or tenderness in your back where the needle was inserted. You may also get a headache after the procedure.

What do the results mean?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a two-test process of your sample:

  • If your first test result is negative for Lyme disease, you don’t need any more testing.
  • If your first result is positive for Lyme disease, your blood will get a second test.
  • If both results are positive for Lyme disease and you also have symptoms of infection, you probably have Lyme disease.

Positive results don’t always mean a Lyme disease diagnosis. In some cases, you can have a positive result but not have an infection. Positive results may also mean you have an autoimmune disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

If your lumbar puncture results are positive, it may mean you have Lyme disease, but you might need more tests to confirm a diagnosis.

If your health care provider thinks you have Lyme disease, he or she will prescribe antibiotic treatment. Most people who are treated with antibiotics in the early stage of disease will make a complete recovery.

Is there anything else I need to know about Lyme disease tests?

You can reduce your chances of getting Lyme disease by taking the following steps:

  • Avoid walking in wooded areas with high grass.
  • Walk in the center of trails.
  • Wear long pants and tuck them into your boots or socks.
  • Apply an insect repellent containing DEET to your skin and clothing.

References

  1. ALDF: American Lyme Disease Foundation [Internet]. Lyme (CT): American Lyme Disease Foundation, Inc.; c2015. Lyme Disease [updated 2017 Dec 27; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: http://www.aldf.com/lyme-disease
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Lyme Disease [updated 2017 Nov 16; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 1 screen]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/index.html
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Lyme Disease: Preventing Tick Bites on People [updated 2017 Apr 17; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/prev/on_people.html
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Lyme Disease: Signs and Symptoms of Untreated Lyme Disease [updated 2016 Oct 26; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/signs_symptoms/index.html
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Lyme Disease: Transmission [updated 2015 Mar 4; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/transmission/index.html
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Lyme Disease: Treatment [updated 2017 Dec 1; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/treatment/index.html
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Lyme Disease: Two-step Laboratory Testing Process [updated 2015 Mar 26; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/diagnosistesting/labtest/twostep/index.html
  8. Hinkle J, Cheever K. Brunner & Suddarth’s Handbook of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests. 2nd Ed, Kindle. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; c2014. Lyme Disease Serology; 369 p.
  9. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2017. Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Analysis [updated 2017 Dec 28; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/tests/cerebrospinal-fluid-csf-analysis
  10. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2017. Lyme Disease [updated 2017 Dec 3; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/conditions/lyme-disease
  11. Lab Tests Online [Internet]. American Association for Clinical Chemistry; c2001–2017. Lyme Disease Tests [updated 2017 Dec 28; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/tests/lyme-disease-tests
  12. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2017. Lyme Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment; 2016 Apr 3 [cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 5 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20374655
  13. Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co. Inc.; c2017. Lyme Disease [cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/infections/bacterial-infections-spirochetes/lyme-disease
  14. Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co. Inc.; c2017. Tests for Brain, Spinal Cord, and Nerve Disorders [cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/diagnosis-of-brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/tests-for-brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders
  15. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Blood Tests [cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/blood-tests
  16. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2017. Health Encyclopedia: Borrelia Antibody (Blood) [cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=borrelia_antibody_lyme
  17. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2017. Health Encyclopedia: Borrelia Antibody (CSF) [cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=borrelia_antibody_lyme_csf
  18. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2017. Health Encyclopedia: Diagnostic Tests for Neurological Disorders [cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=85&contentid=P00811
  19. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2017. Health Information: Lyme Disease Test: Results [updated 2017 Mar 3; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 8 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/lyme-disease-test/hw5113.html#hw5149
  20. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2017. Health Information: Lyme Disease Test: Test Overview [updated 2017 Mar 3; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/lyme-disease-test/hw5113.html
  21. UW Health [Internet]. Madison (WI): University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority; c2017. Health Information: Lyme Disease Test: Why It’s Done [updated 2017 Mar 3; cited 2017 Dec 28]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.uwhealth.org/health/topic/medicaltest/lyme-disease-test/hw5113.html#hw5131

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Lyme disease – Genetics Home Reference

 

Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. The bacteria are transferred to humans by tick bite, specifically by blacklegged ticks (commonly known as deer ticks). The condition is named for the location in which it was first described, the town of Lyme, Connecticut.

If not treated with antibiotics, Lyme disease follows three stages: early localized, early disseminated, and late disseminated infection. A small percentage of individuals have symptoms that persist months or years after treatment, which is called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.

A characteristic feature of Lyme disease, and the key feature of early localized infection, is a slowly expanding red rash on the skin (called erythema migrans) at the site of the tick bite; the rash is often bull’s-eye shaped. Flu-like symptoms and enlarged lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy) are also early signs of infection. Most people who are treated at this stage never develop further symptoms.

The early disseminated stage of Lyme disease occurs as the bacteria is carried throughout the body in the bloodstream. This stage occurs a few weeks after the tick bite. Signs and symptoms can include additional rashes on other parts of the body, flu-like symptoms, and lymphadenopathy. Some affected individuals develop neurologic problems (referred to as neuroborreliosis), such as paralyzed muscles in the face (facial palsy); pain, numbness, or weakness in the hands or feet; difficulty concentrating; or memory problems. Rarely, the heart is affected (Lyme carditis), causing a sensation of fluttering or pounding in the chest (palpitations) or an irregular heartbeat.

The late disseminated stage of Lyme disease can occur months to years after the tick bite. The most common feature of this stage, Lyme arthritis, is characterized by episodes of joint pain and swelling, usually affecting the knees. In rare cases, the late disseminated stage also involves neurological problems.

Individuals with post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome report ongoing exhaustion (fatigue), muscle and joint achiness, headache, or difficulty concentrating even after treatment with antibiotics, when there is no evidence of the bacteria in the body. Very rarely, individuals have joint pain and swelling for months or years after successful antibiotic treatment. This complication is called antibiotic-refractory Lyme arthritis.

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