Lyme Disease Antibody Test

Written by Erica Roth | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What is a Lyme Disease Antibody Test?

A Lyme disease antibody test is used to determine if you have been infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Lyme disease antibody tests are conducted with a routine blood draw.

Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through ticks that are infected with Borrelia burgdorferi. Symptoms of Lyme disease include:

  • headache
  • joint pain
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • bull’s-eye–shaped skin rash

Untreated Lyme disease can affect your heart and nervous system. Symptoms of advanced Lyme disease can include loss of muscle tone in the face, memory loss, and tingling in your hands and feet.

Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose. Ticks are very small and the bites are not always noticeable. Symptoms of the disease can vary from person to person. Not everyone experiences the classic “bulls-eye” rash pattern around a tick bite. Your doctor will use the results of your Lyme disease antibody test along with the report of your symptoms to confirm a diagnosis.

What Are Antibodies?

Antibodies are proteins your body makes in response to foreign or harmful substances, called antigens. Common antigens include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and chemicals.

Your body produces antibodies if you are infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. These Lyme disease-specific antibodies will be present in your blood and your test will be positive.

If you have never been exposed to Borrelia burgdorferi, you will not have any Lyme disease antibodies in your bloodstream. In this case, your test will be negative.

You may test negative for Lyme disease in the early days and weeks after infection. This is because your body has not yet produced a significant number of antibodies. You will usually test positive for Lyme disease starting at about four weeks after infection.

Lyme Disease Antibody Test Procedure

The Lyme disease antibody test requires no advance preparation. A lab technician will swab the inside of your elbow with an antiseptic before drawing your blood. The technician will draw blood from a vein in your arm using a small needle. The blood draw should not be painful, though you might feel a slight prick when the needle is inserted into your vein.

The technician will collect the blood sample in a vial. The puncture site will be bandaged, if needed, after the needle is removed. After the blood draw, you are free to go home.

Risks of a Lyme Disease Antibody Test

There are very few risks associated with the Lyme disease antibody test. Excessive bleeding is a remote possibility, but is an increased risk if you take blood-thinning medications or certain anti-inflammatory drugs, such as:

  • heparin
  • warfarin
  • aspirin
  • ibuprofen
  • naproxen

Infection at the puncture site is also possible, but unlikely. Keep the bandage in place until all bleeding has stopped and keep the area clean. Some people feel light-headed after having blood drawn. Let the technician know if this is the case. You might be asked to sit for a few minutes before going home.

Testing for Lyme Disease at the Laboratory

Lyme disease antibodies can be detected through a series of tests at a laboratory:

  • IgM antibody: a large molecule present in the blood when you have an infection
  • IgG antibody: another molecule that fights bacterial infection
  • ELISA: stands for “enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.” ELISA tests detect antibodies in your bloodstream.
  • Western blot: a follow-up test that detects proteins and antibodies in the blood

The IgM and IgG tests are performed first. If you test positive for these antibodies, it is likely that you have or had Lyme disease. A positive result on the ELISA test means Lyme disease is likely, but must be confirmed with a Western blot. The Western blot test is the definitive diagnosis for Lyme disease.

Following Up After the Procedure

Once you have been infected with Lyme disease, the antibodies remain in your blood. So, even after you have been treated for the disease, you might still have positive blood tests.

Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. Your doctor will discuss your course of treatment in detail if you have tested positive for Lyme disease.

Was this article helpful? Yes No

Send us your feedback

Thank you.

Your message has been sent.

We're sorry, an error occurred.

We are unable to collect your feedback at this time. However, your feedback is important to us. Please try again later.

Show Sources

Trending Now

Understanding the Progression of Ankylosing Spondylitis
Understanding the Progression of Ankylosing Spondylitis
One serious potential cause of back pain is ankylosing spondylitis. Get an understanding of what this condition is, how it progresses, and potential complications in this slideshow.
Beyond Back Pain: 5 Warning Signs of Ankylosing Spondylitis
Beyond Back Pain: 5 Warning Signs of Ankylosing Spondylitis
There are a number of potential causes of back pain, but one you might not know about is ankylosing spondylitis (AS). Find out five warning signs of AS in this slideshow.
How to Evaluate Your Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Plan
How to Evaluate Your Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Plan
Every multiple sclerosis (MS) patient is different, and no single treatment plan works for everyone. Learn more about what to consider when evaluating your MS treatment plan.
Timeline of an Anaphylactic Reaction
Timeline of an Anaphylactic Reaction
From first exposure to life-threatening complications, learn how quickly an allergy attack can escalate and why it can become life threatening.
Common Asthma Triggers and How to Avoid Them
Common Asthma Triggers and How to Avoid Them
Learn about some of the most common triggers for asthma, as well as measures you can take to minimize your risk of exposure, symptoms, and flares.