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Does Lyme Disease Show Up On An MRI?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by the Borrelia bacteria. It is transferred to humans through the bite of an infected tick. Lyme disease can often mimic other chronic issues, so diagnosing the condition is difficult to do. If treatment is delayed, Lyme disease can lead to damage throughout the entire body.

Lyme disease was documented for the first time in the late 1900s, but it has been said to have been around for millions of years after researchers discovered the bacteria in fossils. Symptoms of acute Lyme disease are fever-like and often include a bullseye-shaped rash where the tick bite occurred. Chronic and late-stage Lyme disease have far more serious symptoms, such as muscle and joint aches/pains that can lead to arthritis; chronic fatigue; nerve damage; and neurological symptoms. To diagnose Lyme disease, blood tests, a physical exam and a medical history will need to be done. But does Lyme disease show up on an MRI? Read on to learn more about Lyme diagnosis and the neurological symptoms of Lyme disease.

What are the neurological symptoms of Lyme disease?

Lyme disease has the ability to affect all the body’s systems. The bacteria spreads through the bloodstream and causes widespread inflammation, which can lead to chronic issues that may take months or years to recover from. If left untreated, some symptoms of Lyme disease can linger well throughout a person’s life.

When the Borrelia bacteria invades the nervous and neurological systems, it can cause symptoms such as numbness, chronic pain, Bell’s palsy, memory disfunction, vision problems, and symptoms that mimic meningitis such as a stiff neck, headaches, and fever.


Image by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash: Cognitive dysfunction can be prevalent in those suffering from chronic Lyme disease. 

How do you test for neurological Lyme disease?

Testing for Lyme disease can be difficult if the disease presents itself as other conditions. Known as “The Great Imitator”, Lyme disease can be very hard to pin down, and specific testing for it generally only occurs when the doctor is Lyme-literate. Due to the symptoms being so prevalent among other conditions, misdiagnosis of Lyme disease can occur if the tick bite isn’t identified along with the other symptoms. It also takes roughly three weeks for the antibodies to appear in the bloodstream, making diagnosis that much harder.

In the early stages of Lyme disease, a blood test is generally sufficient to determine whether the infection is present. When neurological symptoms are detected, it indicates that the disease has progressed, and a more thorough test will need to be conducted. Spinal fluid will need to be taken and tested for the antibody to determine whether Lyme disease is the cause of the neurological symptoms. Other tests include brain scans, cognitive tests, and biopsies on small nerve fibres.

Can you diagnose Lyme via an MRI scan?

An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan is a scan designed to display the entire physical structure of the brain. MRIs are used to diagnose a wide variety of illnesses that start in the brain, including epilepsy, tumors, and even Lyme disease.

An MRI scanner will display any inflammation of the brain as well as any abnormalities in the white matter. Hyperintensities in the white matter indicate brain lesions, which will show up in around 40% of people with Lyme disease. An MRI scan can be used to diagnose Lyme disease, but only in conjunction with other tests, as lesions on the brain can occur in other conditions.

Does Lyme disease show brain lesions as a symptom?

As mentioned above, brain lesions, or hyperintensities, are abnormal spots in or on the healthy brain tissue. These lesions can be large or small, depending on the cause, and not all of them are harmful. Some can even appear due simply to age. Different types of brain lesions are caused by trauma, infections, immune issues, brain cell death, and tumor-related illnesses.

Brain lesions can be present in almost half of all Lyme disease patients, but they are more common in young people suspected of having the illness. Brain lesions are not always present alongside Lyme, so an MRI scan is not one of the primary tests for the disease.


Image by Jarmoluk on Pixabay: Does Lyme disease show brain lesions as a symptom on an MRI scan?

What neurological conditions could Lyme disease be mistaken for?

As mentioned above, Lyme disease can imitate a host of other conditions. When it comes to neurological symptoms, Lyme disease can be misdiagnosed because of the uncanny similarities between it and other conditions such as Alzheimer’s, ALS, depression and other mental health issues, insomnia, and Morgellons disease.

To avoid misdiagnosing Lyme disease, doctors need to pay particular attention to the medical and activity history of the patient, as well as any other symptoms that may not be present in those suffering from typical neurological disorders. But since Lyme disease can cause chronic issues and permanent nerve damage, tests for the condition should be conducted in all patients that exhibit relevant symptoms.

Featured image by Jarmoluk on Pixabay