With April Fool’s on the horizon, people across the world are taking extra precautions to avoid being duped. Yet in the medical world, there is a disease so tricky to diagnose that it has been dubbed “The Great Imitator”.

Lyme disease has earned its nickname because of its reputation for being particularly difficult to identify. While many diseases and injuries are easily diagnosable due to unique symptoms or appearances, the symptoms of Lyme disease are so ubiquitous and general that even long-tenured doctors may have difficulties in diagnosing the ailment. Early symptoms include flu-like symptoms, aches, and fatigue which can easily be mistaken with a range of conditions. Additionally, symptoms may not even appear until weeks later.

In fact, even the initial tick bite itself is difficult to notice – according to a survey, only 17% of patients with Lyme disease even recall being bitten. Because Lyme disease is best treated early before more severe symptoms appear, this is an especially distressing fact. Moreover, although one of the most common symptoms associated with Lyme disease is a rash, only 42% of cases are known to start with a rash and the famous bullseye appearance associated with Lyme disease is not very common.

To make matters even more confusing, tests for Lyme disease are unreliable. Many traditional Lyme tests look for antibodies which might not be produced if spirochetes (spiral-shaped bacteria that causes Lyme disease) are hiding. It should be of no surprise then that the CDC predicts the actual number of people with Lyme disease is much higher than numbers suggest. A majority of Lyme patients are misdiagnosed at least once before accurate diagnosis.

Lyme disease can mimic the symptoms of around 350 diseases including but not limited to:
-ALS
-Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
-Multiple Sclerosis
-Alzheimer’s
-Fibromyalgia
-Depression

The incidence of Lyme disease has been rapidly rising throughout the past decade, and this can in part be attributed to doctors becoming more familiar and knowledgeable on the mystifying disease. More extensive medical research and public awareness will be required to undo its reputation as ‘The Great Imitator’.