Lyme Disease Vs. Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) and Lyme disease are diseases that stem from very different causes. MS is a life-long autoimmune condition that disrupts the communication between your brain and your body. Lyme disease can happen if you’re bitten by a deer tick infected with the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi.

But these two conditions can have overlapping symptoms. They even may look similar on brain scans, MRI, and other tests.

Similarities

MS and Lyme disease go through stages as your condition gets worse. Early detection is important for both illnesses. But getting a clear diagnosis often can be difficult because MS and Lyme disease can look like other conditions.

Here are some traits and symptoms that MS and Lyme disease have in common:

  • Weakness and numbness
  • Blurred vision
  • Aches and pain
  • Brain fog and confusion
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Women are three times more likely to get MS than men are, and twice as likely to get Lyme disease.

Differences

The biggest one is that MS has no cure, while most people with Lyme disease can recover fully within weeks with antibiotics. In some people, some symptoms of Lyme disease can linger for months or longer after antibiotics, a condition called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.

Other ways the two diseases differ include:

Geography. MS is most often diagnosed between ages 20 to 50. It tends to be more common among people who live in colder climates. Lyme disease, by contrast, tends to be concentrated in the Northeast, New England, and Great Lakes regions of the U.S. Lyme disease also tends to affect two main age groups, children and adults 40-50.

Disease progression. MS doesn’t go away. About 90% of people will move from the first stage, relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), to the second one, secondary progressing MS (SPMS), with more severe damage and disability. It can take up to 25 years for this to happen. Early treatment for Lyme disease can prevent it from going beyond the first stage.

Symptoms. Both conditions can lead to a range of problems. But most MS symptoms are neurological and involve the brain and the rest of the central nervous system. Lyme disease is an infection.

Continued

The main signs of MS include:

Symptoms of Lyme disease include:

Diagnosis. There is not a test for MS. Your doctor looks at your symptoms and rules out other illnesses. An MRI may show MS lesions on your brain or spinal cord. Your doctor also may order a blood test, spinal tap, and check how your nervous system responds to stimulation.

Diagnosis for Lyme disease requires two tests. One looks for antibodies to the infection. If that quick test is positive, a second antibody test will confirm that you have Lyme disease. Your body may not make antibodies for weeks or months after your deer tick bite. If your test comes back negative, you may need to be retested later.

Treatments. MS is a long-term condition. The main treatments are medications called disease-modifying therapies and biologicals. These drugs slow the disease and lessen the number of attacks. You also may need medications to treat related problems such as depression, muscle spasms, bladder issues, and sexual dysfunction.

Other MS treatments include:

Lyme disease can be cured when it’s treated early with antibiotics. Sometimes symptoms, such as fatigue, pain, and foggy thinking, may linger long after your antibiotic treatment ends.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 15, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Multiple Sclerosis,” “Treating RRMS,” “Lyme Disease,” “MS Symptoms,” “Diagnosing SPMS.”
National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “Who Gets MS? (Epidemiology),” “Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS),” “Rehabilitation,” “Types of MS.”
CDC: “Treatment for erythema migrans,” “Signs and Symptoms of Untreated Lyme Disease,” “Diagnosis and Testing,” “Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome,” “Lyme Disease Maps: Historical Data.”
Global Lyme Alliance: “Stages of Lyme Disease.”
Cedars Sinai: “Secondary-Progressive Multiple Sclerosis.”
Breast Cancer: “Low White Blood Cell Count.”
Ben Thrower, MD, medical director, Andrew C. Carlos Multiple Sclerosis Institute at Shepherd Center; Atlanta. 
Global Lyme Alliance: “How Chronic Lyme Disease Changed My Life.”
MS Focus: “Diseases that Mimic MS.”

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