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Could Lyme Disease Be Misdiagnosed As Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)?

BCA-clinic - children outdoors

In most countries, the summer months are filled with outdoor adventure, especially for young people (or the young at heart!). However, time outside exposes us to a wide variety of flora and fauna, and coming into contact with plants and animals can lead to the contraction of disease.

Lyme disease is one such example. And the younger the person with the infection, the more difficult it can be to reach a conclusion about what’s ailing them. As with many other illnesses, the symptoms of Lyme disease can sometimes lead practitioners to a misdiagnosis. And as some parents and their children have experienced, Lyme disease can mimic attention deficit disorder, leading some to wonder: is Lyme disease linked to ADD?


Image by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash: Children are at higher risk of contracting Lyme disease when playing in tall grass or piles of garden materials without long pants and long sleeves.


Lyme disease: what it is and how kids could become exposed

Lyme disease spreads from ticks to humans when an infected tick bites someone. Ticks are most active in the UK between the months of March and June, and August and November. Despite those two time periods being peak season, contact with ticks is a possibility all year round. Adventures into wooded areas at the onset of springtime, or camping during a summer holiday, could expose children to contact with an infected tick.

Most cases of Lyme disease in juveniles affect children aged five to nine years old. Children are especially susceptible if they are spending time in grassy areas without any insect repellent or long clothing on. Family pets may also become host to ticks if they are allowed to roam wooded or grassy areas.

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. When a tick carrying the bacterium attaches itself to a host, it buries itself into the skin of the animal or human while it bites. This causes the bacterium to enter the bloodstream. The tick will often remain lodged in the skin after it bites.


What to do if a tick is found

Ticks are commonly found on the body in a few key areas: in the hair or along the hairline, in or around the ears, inside the underarm or navel, behind the knees, around the waistline, or on the inner thigh. If you find a tick on a child, remove it promptly with tweezers and be sure to kill and save the tick for testing.


Symptoms of Lyme disease

Lyme disease symptoms include flu-like symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Poor appetite
  • Swollen glands
  • Headache
  • Stiffness in the neck.

There is also a tell-tale bullseye-shaped ring of irritated skin that sometimes (though not always) forms around the area where the tick bite is located.

Acute Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics over the course of a few weeks. If left untreated, it can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system, causing complications. Chronic lyme disease is a somewhat controversial diagnosis that is not considered a real affliction by many practitioners, though many Lyme disease patients experience lingering symptoms despite tests showing that their body is clear of the infection.


Can Lyme mimic ADD or ADHD?

Many people ask the question, ‘could Lyme disease be misdiagnosed as attention deficit disorder in children?’ Well, a 2012 study actually found a possible link between chronic Lyme disease (CLD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD). ‘Cognitive deficits associated with CLD have been demonstrated before,’ says Dr. Young, a physician whose research focuses on ADD and ADHD. ‘Although this is the first survey to identify a linkage between these two conditions, we conclude that many individuals who are diagnosed with CLD might have ADHD (inattentive type). We believe that many are diagnosed with CLD inaccurately and that ADHD symptoms might better explain their persistent pain and fatigue.’

So can Lyme disease cause ADD/ADHD-like symptoms in adults? A consensus on the answer to this question hasn’t been reached, though the topic has certainly been explored. Many infections do cause changes in a person’s personality, including Lyme disease, which some have reported leading to cognitive decline and sometimes even violent behaviour.


BCA-clinic - child and doctor
Image by Semevent on Pixabay: How Lyme disease mimics attention deficit disorder is still unclear, and physicians are divided on the link between the two.

What to do if you think your child has contracted Lyme disease

Depending on the amount of time you estimate has passed since the child was bitten, there are a few avenues you can take. Not every tick bite leads to Lyme disease (remember, the tick has to be infected itself). So, if you discover a bullseye rash or flu-like symptoms shortly after the bite, you have cause for concern and should seek help immediately. Co-infections are another possibility; these can take on many forms, the common denominator among which is fever and rash.

Due to a lack of consensus as to the long-term effects of Lyme disease, depending on the physician or paediatrician you take your child to, advice on how to proceed can be greatly varied. You are of course entitled to be treated with respect and listened to wherever you take your children for medical attention. If you don’t feel that is possible, the doctor you have selected may not be the one for you. If you fear that your physician is not taking your concerns to heart, seeking a second opinion in your area or contacting support groups that can recommend well-trained professionals is always a viable option.

Featured image by Robert Collins on Unsplash