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Lyme Disease Can Take a Significant Toll on Mental Health

— August 23, 2021

For those with severe Lyme disease, life can be particularly difficult and take a significant toll on mental and emotional wellbeing.

Lyme disease can take a significant toll not only on patient’s physical health, but their mental and emotional wellbeing.  “Patients hospitalized for Lyme disease had a 28% higher incidence of mental disorders and were twice as likely to attempt suicide than people without Lyme,” researchers report in the July 28 online edition of American Journal of Psychiatry.

People can contract Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick.  It specifically stems from bacteria carried by deer ticks.  Most cases can be cured with two to four weeks of antibiotic treatment.  However, the study reported, “10% to 20% of patients suffer symptoms such as pain, fatigue or difficulty thinking that can last for months or years.”  Patients can also experience aches and pains, fatigue, fever, or malaise, joint stiffness or swelling and a rash in the inflicted area.  In the most severe cases, people experience poor concentration, irritability, memory, and sleep disorders, as well as painful nerve dysfunction.  The disease can cause significant damage and be debilitating.

“Lyme causes an inflammatory response in the host and that association of inflammation and psychiatric problems, and suicidal behavior are well-documented,” Joseph Trunzo, chair of the department of psychology at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., said.

Lyme Disease Can Take a Significant Toll on Mental Health
Photo by Erik Karits from Pexels

“These findings highlight the need for greater awareness in the medical community that patients after a serious case of Lyme disease are at increased risk of mental disorders and suicidal behaviors, particularly during the first year after diagnosis,” added study author Dr. Brian Fallon, a psychiatrist with the New York State Psychiatric Institute and director of the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center at Columbia University. “While most people with Lyme disease do not develop subsequent psychiatric problems, some do.  Clinicians need to ask about suicidal thoughts, and depression in particular, if symptoms persist.”

Trunzo added, “It isn’t clear if the disease causes mental disorders or if they result from battling the other symptoms of Lyme infection.  Lyme disease can have devastating medical and psychological effects, wreaking havoc on relationships, finances, cognition, emotions, quality of life and all aspects of daily functioning.  It is almost certain that people can develop psychiatric symptoms as a result of the problems Lyme disease may cause in their lives, but the idea that infection itself may be driving psychiatric symptoms should not be dismissed.”

For the study, Fallon and his cohorts examined the medical records of 7 million patients in Denmark over 22 years.  They found that people with Lyme disease had “a greater risk of mental problems and suicide attempts.  They also had a 42% higher incidence of depression and bipolar disorder, and a 75% higher rate of death by suicide, compared with people without Lyme disease.  Also, suffering more than one bout of Lyme disease was tied with an even higher rate of mental problems and suicide attempts.”

Lyme disease, unfortunately, is also a relatively common condition.  Nearly half a million people in the United States are treated for Lyme disease each year, which is a significant number of people, the study reports.

“Lyme disease is not a simple illness,” Fallon said. “It can cause serious neurologic, psychiatric, cardiac and rheumatologic problems, as well. Patients experiencing psychiatric problems related to Lyme disease should seek professional help, as this infection can be challenging, leading to serious mental health consequences.”


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