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Lyme Disease And Rheumatoid Arthritis: Similarities Differences And Why A Misdiagnosis Can Be Deadly

Chronic fatigue? Joint pain? You may have Lyme disease .

Home » Tick Talk » Lyme Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis: Similarities, Differences and Why a Misdiagnosis Can be Deadly

Because its symptoms mimic those of so many other diseases both tick-borne and otherwise Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed. One of the most common Lyme disease misdiagnoses is Rheumatoid Arthritis , a chronic condition with less clear causes than Lyme disease.

Though there are many fundamental differences between these two conditions, its true that arthritic pain stemming from Lyme disease can often look like RA. In fact, Lyme was first discovered and documented in part because of a group of children presenting with arthritis symptoms in Lyme, Connecticut.

So, if youre experiencing joint pain, how can you tell the difference? If youve been bitten by a tick or think youre at risk for a tick-borne disease, its extremely important not to delay seeking medical attention or ignore any arthritic pain that might be associated with Lyme disease. Continue reading to better understand the differences and similarities between Lyme disease and arthritis.

Lyme Disease: Causes and Risk Factors

Lyme disease is a tick-borne infectious disease caused by the spiral-shaped bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato. Though Lyme is treatable with antibiotics, it can worsen, change symptoms, spread to the neurological system, become a chronic condition, and even become life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated right away.

Common Symptoms of Lyme Disease

What Is Lyme Arthritis

Lyme arthritis occurs when Lyme disease bacteria enter joint tissue and cause inflammation. If left untreated, permanent damage to the joint can occur. Lyme arthritis accounts for approximately one out of every four Lyme disease cases reported to CDC. Because of reporting practices, this statistic may overstate the frequency of arthritis among patients seen in routine clinical practice.

Recognizing Lyme Disease Causing Hip Problems In Children

Theres an old saying in medicine, If you hear hoof beats, think horses not zebras. It means to look for the obvious not search for strange, unusual causes of symptoms. But in the case of hip pain in children, it may be a zebra like Lyme disease. Most of the time, joint pain caused by Lyme disease affects the knee. But in a small number of cases, Lyme arthritis presents only in the hip.

Thats the conclusion of a group of pediatric orthopedic surgeons who studied their records of Lyme disease in children. Located in the northeastern region of the United States at the Childrens Hospital, this hospital is in an area where Lyme disease is very high.

Yet out of all the children treated at the hospital, only 73 cases of Lyme disease were reported between 1995 and 2009. And only eight of those cases were hip pain caused by Lyme arthritis. The children in the study ranged in ages from three to 20 years old. The symptoms presented included hip pain , refusal to put weight on that leg , and limp .

Fever was not a key feature for most of the children. None of the families were aware of any tick bites or unusual skin rashes. But lab values were suspicious with elevated white blood cell count and sed rate .

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Chronic Lyme Disease Symptom Severity

In LDos chronic Lyme disease survey, over 75% of patients reported at least one symptom as severe or very severe and 63% reported two or more such symptoms. Find out more about LDo peer-reviewed published surveys. The chart below shows the severity of ten common chronic Lyme symptoms.

The survey also found that patients with chronic Lyme disease have high disability and unemployment rates. Over 40% of patients with chronic Lyme disease reported that they currently are unable to work because of Lyme disease and 24% report that they have received disability at some point in their illness.

Lyme Disease Andthe Lymphatic System

What is Lyme disease? Lyme disease symptoms and treatment

Your lymphatic system is an essentialpart of your immune system. It helps produce the cells that make your immunesystem strong enough to fight illnesses off, and also regulates things like theremoval of excess fluid from your body and the transportation of fat around thebloodstream. When the lymphatic system is under stress, the physical resultsare occurrences such as bloating, skin problems, and the swelling of the lymphnodes themselves, found in the neck, collarbone, underarms and groin. If yournext question is: are swollen lymph nodesa symptom of Lyme disease? well, youd be smart to ask. Read on to findout.

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Lyme Disease & Plantar Fasciitis

A Lyme co-infection called Bartonella can cause the same foot and heel pain symptoms as plantar fasciitis:

  • Painful inflammation along the bottom of your foot
  • Pain is worst first thing in the morning
  • Long periods of standing or sitting cause pain to flare up

Statistically, Americans are more likely to suffer from plantar fasciitis than Bartonella. No matter the cause of your foot pain, its important to learn the root cause for effective treatment. Our experienced surgical podiatrists will evaluate your foot and heel pain with a view to creating an effective and lasting treatment plan. Back to top

Milwaukee podiatrists treating all types of foot, heel & ankle pain

Our team of elite surgical podiatrists are committed to providing the highest level of care for every patient. Well take the time to listen as you describe your symptoms, and provide solutions for fast pain relief and long-term results.

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Sensitivities To Light And Sound

One of the pioneers in Lyme disease research is Joseph J. Burrascano Jr., MD. In the early days of the disease, he came up with a checklist that doctors could use to diagnose itand it includes all of the above signs, as well as other previously observed symptoms like sensitivities to light and sound, muscle weakness, erectile dysfunction, and dental pain.

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Victims And Doctors May Overlook Signs

We often hear that a bulls-eye rash is the classic Lyme marker. But the more common rash if you have one at all is a round or oval-shaped reddish or pinkish area that starts small and expands in size, said Fallon, author with Dr. Jennifer Sotsky of Conquering Lyme Disease.

Black-legged ticks, or deer ticks, are in the nymph stage when they spread Lyme disease. The size of a poppy seed, they can easily be overlooked. Many people dont realize theyve been bitten.

That uncertainty can lead doctors to discount the possibility of Lyme disease in their patients, although symptoms may point in that direction. Fallon said. And even when doctors test for the disease, the results can be inconclusive. For example, in the first four to six weeks after a tick bite, people with Lyme disease will likely test negative because antibodies have not yet had time to develop, according to the CDC.

If you feel your doctor is not taking your concerns seriously, Fallon said, you should seek someone else, and perhaps someone who has more knowledge of tick-borne diseases.

Treating Pain Causes By Lyme Disease

What causes osteoarthritis and how does the disease affect the joints?

When Lyme disease is the cause of pain and arthritis, the primary goal is to remove the bacteria that started a cascade of reactions that contributed to the pain. Just as importantly, the fire of inflammation that has been lit needs to be treated. This inflammation is present with active infections, but can also persist after the infections are successfully treated.


The foundation for reducing systemic inflammation in the body is to avoid foods that are inflammatory. The foods that most commonly create inflammation are gluten, cow dairy, and sugar. If food allergy testing has been performed, the reactive foods should also be avoided. People with other conditions such as SIBO or MCAS may also need to follow a specific diet. Any food that creates inflammation adds to the level of inflammation already being produced by infections.

Herbal Treatment for Pain

The herb turmeric is one of the most effective treatments for reducing the pro-inflammatory cytokines produced by the immune system in response to tick-borne infections. This reduction in inflammation leads to a reduction in muscle and joint pain, and joint swelling.

Low-dose immunotherapy is a promising therapy that works to improve the immune response in Lyme disease

LDI uses very dilute doses of bacterial antigens to help down-regulate the inflammation produced by bacteria. This treatment has provided remarkable benefits for many people who suffer from pain and neuropathy from Lyme disease and associated infections.

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How Are Lyme And Rheumatoid Arthritis Different

Most of the time Rheumatoid Arthritis affects the hands and feet, but Lyme Arthritis usually occurs in larger joints such as the shoulders or knees. Also, Rheumatoid Arthritis is often symmetrical, so it affects the same parts of the body equally on both sides. Whereas Lyme Arthritis is usually asymmetrical and can affect one or several joints. Rheumatoid Arthritis pain is generally more severe and consistent than Lyme Arthritis because the symptoms of Lyme Arthritis can often come and go.

Cant Get Better 4 Signs Your Aches & Pains Could Be Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is the number one vector-borne epidemic in the world and mimics many common diseases and autoimmune illnesses. If youve been told that you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, an autoimmune disease like MS, or are just getting old, it is possible that you suffer from the number one infectious cause of these symptoms.

The Center for Disease Control released data showing a tenfold increase in the number of cases of Lyme disease, with approximately one million Americans reported having been exposed to it in 2012. So if you go to a doctor complaining of fatigue with joint and muscle pain, and have a negative blood test, its possible you may have contracted Lyme disease. How can you know whether you have a tick-borne illness causing your symptoms, though? Here are four signs to watch for:

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Lyme Disease How Can It Affect My Joints

26 May 2021

As the weather increases in temperature, so do the number of tick bites and cases of Lyme disease – an illness caused by a bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by a deer tick bite. Typically, early symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, fatigue, and at times, a bullseye rash, called erythema migrans.

If an early infection is missed or is asymptomatic and left untreated, the disease can spread to the heart, nerves, brain, and even the joints, causing Lyme arthritis – inflammation in the joint tissue.

“Lyme arthritis most commonly affects one joint, typically the knee, and presents as pain and swelling without any injury or trauma,” explains Shawn Potteiger, D.O., sports medicine physician at Premier.

Additionally, when Lyme disease spreads, “Patients experience warm, swollen joints with increased pain when the knee or joint is fully straightened or bent,” states Itai Gans, M.D., sports medicine surgeon at Premier. “Joint swelling can increase and decrease, move between different joints and become quite painful, which can limit the ability to walk, at times,” says Gans.

Diagnosis for Lyme disease is done through lab testing. Luckily, the illness can successfully be treated with antibiotics. If joint swelling progresses, patients may need to seek orthopaedic care to treat fluid buildup.

Sorting Out Your Symptoms Seeking A Diagnosis

Lyme disease

Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus also known as systemic lupus erythematosus are both autoimmune diseases that can affect many parts of the body. Lyme disease is an infectious disease with some similar symptoms, caused by tick-borne bacteria.

Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Lyme disease can all cause severe, disabling joint pain, and the three diseases are frequently mistaken for each other during diagnosis.

Other symptoms that may indicate one or more of these diseases include skin rashes, kidney disease, fever, headaches, fatigue and depression. There are a number of tests that can be done to determine whether you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or Lyme disease.

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How Is Lyme Disease Treated

Generally speaking, the earlier and more quickly Lyme disease is treated, the quicker and more complete your recovery will be.

Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease, and they include:

  • Oral antibiotics. Oral antibiotics are the standard treatment for Lyme disease when its in its early stages. Cefuroxime or amoxicillin is prescribed for younger children, breastfeeding or pregnant women and some adults. Doxycycline is given to children and adults over the age of eight years.

The usual length of a course of antibiotics for Lyme disease is between 14 and 21 days.

  • Intravenous antibiotics. If you are suffering from complications affecting your central nervous system, you may be prescribed treatment via intravenous antibiotics for between 14 and 28 days. This course of action gets rid of any infection, although it may still take you a long time to recover entirely from your symptoms.

Intravenous antibiotic treatment often causes a range of side effects, including:

  • Mild to severe diarrhea
  • Lower white blood cell count
  • Infection or colonization with other antibiotic-resistant organisms

Even though there is a risk of experiencing these side effects, its imperative to undergo the course of treatment your doctor prescribes to avoid the serious complications Lyme disease can have.

Expert Care For Joint Pain From Lyme Disease

At, Aurora Health Care, our team of more than 80 orthopedic specialists has years of experience and training caring for people with joint pain and other problems, like arthritis. This has led to fast and accurate diagnoses for the people we treat so they can return to their busy lifestyles.

Highlights of our program also include:

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Treating Joint Pain From Lyme Disease

Most people feel better with the help of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. However, as many as one in 10 people continue having symptoms.

When you come to Aurora, you are not out of options. Our orthopedic experts can offer additional treatments to help you get lasting relief.

Additional treatments for arthritis after Lyme disease include:

  • Physical therapy: We strengthen the muscles that support joints and relieve joint pain with the help of special exercises. Our physical therapists also teach you more comfortable ways of performing everyday activities, like getting out of a car. Learn more about orthopedic physical therapy.
  • Steroid injections: Steroids are medications that reduce pain and swelling. We use special imaging technology to guide the needle to just the right spot and then inject the medication into the joint. Find out more about injections for joint pain.
  • Arthroscopy: If other treatments fail to relieve the symptoms, we examine the joint tissue during a short, minimally invasive procedure . Using a thin, flexible surgical instrument , we evaluate the tissue and make repairs right on the spot.

Staying Motivated While Working Through Lyme Disease And Rheumatoid Arthritis

What Does Lyme Disease Do To Your Body?

It can be a challenge to stay focused on achieving optimum health when you have Lyme disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Tim talks about how long it took him to start to be able to reintroduce some troublesome foods, in his case, potatoes.

This is a sentiment that is often expressed by other members of the Paddison Program and it is entirely understandable. When our lifestyle is being able to eat whatever we want, changing our whole attitude to food takes commitment.

And Clint relates to this, he tells us that he had to adopt his goal to get well, as his lifes mission, before he started to see results. But it is achievable, and thats why Tims case study is so inspiring. He also discusses how his faith and love had an impact on his journey.

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Symptoms Of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease causes a range of symptoms that change and intensify as the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, first introduced by the tick, spread to the rest of the body. Untreated cases can cause serious problems or lead to a fatal condition. Whats tricky, too, is that the onset of initial symptoms occurs anywhere from three to 30 days after exposure.

Clinically, there are three stages of Lyme disease: early localized disease, early disseminated disease, and late disseminated disease. Early localized disease, the initial manifestation, is characterized by:

  • Bullseye rash and swelling,the most notorious symptom, occurs in 70% to 80% of cases. Clinically referred to as erythema migrans, its appearance variesit can be a different color or shapeespecially in people of color. It arises about a week after exposure to the bacteria.
  • Other symptoms of the first stage include fever, fatigue, headache, and joint pain. Very often, those with the conditionespecially if there is no rashfeel as if theyre experiencing the flu.

Disseminated Lyme disease symptoms arise as the bacterial infection works its way to other bodily systems, organs, and structures. Typically a month or more after exposureand potentially chronicsymptoms have changed and include:

In its late disseminated phase, the bacterial infection has begun affecting nerve and joint structures, causing significant complications. Chronic arthritis, continued swelling of the brain , and nerve damage can all result.

Neck Pain From Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is commonly associated with tick bites and a big circular rash. However, a tick bite does not hurt and many people do not recall being bit or seeing the rash. Further complicating matters, Lyme disease symptoms may start out minor and not become problematic for months or longer.

Lyme disease causes neck pain in more than 30% of cases. Watch:Neck Pain Causes Video

Media reports rarely focus on neck pain with Lyme disease, but some estimates note that it occurs in more than 30% of the cases and is typically one of the earlier symptoms.1 Recognizing Lyme disease early and seeking treatment can make a big difference in the outcome.

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