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Lyme Disease Test

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An abnormal, or positive, test for Lyme disease can mean one of the following:

  • If antibodies are found, you may either have Lyme disease now or had the illness in the past. Once you have a Lyme disease infection, antibodies to the bacteria will usually stay in your body for the rest of your life.
  • If Lyme disease bacteria DNA is found, you probably have an active Lyme disease infection.
  • The result is a false-positive. Sometimes an antibody test for Lyme disease finds antibodies to other bacteria, such as syphilis, or viruses, such as the Epstein-Barr virus or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The test may also find antibodies that develop as part of an immune response against the body's own tissues (autoimmune disease), such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Your doctor may not be able to tell if the antibodies found in these tests are caused by a current Lyme disease infection.

The PCR test may be done to confirm an infection if you have a positive antibody test result.

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

  • You have a viral infection, such as Epstein-Barr virus or HIV.
  • You have another bacterial infection, such as syphilis.
  • You have high lipid levels.

What To Think About

  • It may be hard to tell if you have Lyme disease. False-positive and false-negative Lyme disease test results are common. Many people do not make antibodies to Lyme disease bacteria for up to 8 weeks after being infected.
  • When an ELISA test is positive, a Western blot test is usually done to confirm the diagnosis of Lyme disease.
  • Doctors often do not rely on test results alone when recommending treatment for a person who may have Lyme disease. Treatment is often based on a person's symptoms, the time of year, having a tick bite, and other risk factors for Lyme disease.
  • Finding antibodies to the bacteria that cause Lyme disease does not always mean that an active Lyme disease infection is causing your symptoms. It only means that you were infected at one time.

Other Works Consulted

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Lyme disease. In LK Pickering, ed., Red Book: 2009 Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases, 28th ed., pp. 430–435. Elk Grove, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.

  • Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

  • National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2011). Lyme Disease: A history of Lyme disease, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Available online: www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/lymeDisease/understanding/Pages/intro.aspx.

  • Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 21, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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