Lyme Disease Test
A Lyme disease test detects
antibodies to the
Lyme disease bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi in the blood. Lyme disease bacteria are spread by certain
kinds of ticks.
Lyme disease can be hard to diagnose because its
symptoms are similar to those of many other illnesses. If you and your doctor
think you have Lyme disease, your doctor will do a careful medical history and
physical exam. Antibody tests can sometimes be used to help identify Lyme
disease. Other tests may be done in certain situations.
Antibody tests are the most
commonly used tests to help identify Lyme disease. Antibody testing may also be
done on fluid from the spine or from a joint.
It may take up to 2
months after becoming infected before antibodies can be detected in a blood
test. Once formed, antibodies usually stay in your system for many years, even
after successful treatment of the disease. Finding antibodies to the Lyme
disease bacteria does not tell whether you were infected recently or sometime
in the past.
There are two types of antibody tests to detect
Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). This
common and rapid test to identify Lyme disease antibodies is the most sensitive
screening test for Lyme disease.
Western blot test. This test also identifies Lyme
disease antibodies and can confirm the results of an ELISA test. It is
most often done to detect a chronic Lyme disease infection.
Antibody testing should be done in a two-step
process, using the ELISA followed by the Western blot test. The Western blot test (which is a more specific
test than the ELISA) should be done in all people who have tested positive or borderline
positive (equivocal) in an ELISA test.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. Polymerase
chain reaction (PCR) testing detects the genetic material (DNA) of the Lyme disease bacteria. PCR testing may be
used to identify a current (active) infection if you have symptoms of Lyme
disease that have not gotten better with antibiotic treatment. PCR testing is
not done as often as antibody testing because it requires technical skill and
expensive equipment. Also, standards have not yet been developed for PCR
testing and there is a risk of
false-positive test results.
Why It Is Done
A Lyme disease test is done to diagnose
Lyme disease in people who have symptoms of Lyme disease. Symptoms may
- An expanding red rash with a pale center. This
is sometimes called a "bull's-eye" rash.
- Extreme tiredness.
- Headache and stiff neck.
and joint pain.
Symptoms of chronic Lyme disease infection include joint
pain, stiffness, and problems with the heart, brain, or nerves.
Testing is most accurate when you have
risk factors for Lyme disease or symptoms of the