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Is It Lyme Disease or Multiple Sclerosis (MS)? Learn the Signs

Sometimes conditions can have similar symptoms. If you feel tired, dizzy, or have numbness or tingling in your arms or legs, you may have multiple sclerosis (MS) or Lyme disease. While both conditions present themselves similarly, they are very different in nature. If you suspect you have either, it is best to contact your doctor for testing and diagnosis.

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a condition caused from the bite of a deer tick or back-legged tick. When a tick attaches to you, it can transfer a form of bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. The longer the tick is on you, the more likely you are to get Lyme disease.

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Ticks live in areas lush with tall grasses and woods. They are most common in the northeast and upper Midwest of the United States. Anyone can be susceptible to Lyme disease. It affects more than 300,000 people each year.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

MS is a condition caused by the immune system. It affects the central nervous system. If you have MS, the immune system attacks the protective layer that covers nerve fibers, known as myelin. This causes problems between the brain and the body, resulting in a range of symptoms.

MS is commonly diagnosed in young adults. More than 400,000 people in the United States have it. It can range from mild to severe and is a lifelong condition.

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Symptoms of MS can come and go, but generally become more present with time. The causes of MS are unknown, but immunologic, environmental, infectious, and genetic factors are all suspected to contribute to the condition.

Symptoms

Lyme disease and MS have several symptoms in common, including:

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  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • numbness or tingling
  • spasms
  • weakness
  • walking difficulties
  • vision problems

Early Signs of Multiple Sclerosis

Additional symptom that may occur with Lyme disease include:

  • a rash that may appear as a bull’s eye
  • flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, body aches, and headache
  • joint pain

Treatment

Generally, Lyme disease is a treatable condition that requires antibiotics. Some may experience chronic Lyme disease and require different courses of treatment.

People with MS can be treated with one or more of 13 long-term treatments. These treatments aim to speed the recovery from attacks, slow the progression of the disease, and manage symptoms. MS cannot be cured at this time.

Lyme Disease and MS: Often Confused

The symptoms of Lyme disease and MS can be similar. Doctors may confuse one with the other. To diagnose these conditions, doctors will need to conduct blood and other tests. If a doctor suspects you have MS, you may need magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a spinal tap, and evoked potential tests, which measure brain activity.

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It is unlikely that you have both Lyme and MS, but it is possible. Some of Lyme disease’s symptoms can mimic those of MS. It can also follow a relapse-remittance course, where the symptoms come and go. Finally, the results from an MRI and a cerebrospinal fluid analysis may look similar among people with either condition.

If your history and medical results suggest you could have either condition, a doctor may decide to try IV antibiotic therapy to see if there is an improvement in the MRI scan. Once the doctor determines your condition, you will begin a treatment and management plan.

If you have Lyme disease or MS, it is important to seek medical advice right away. Despite the different outlooks for Lyme and MS, getting diagnosed and being treated for both conditions is imperative to your overall health.

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