Diagnosis of Lyme Disease
by Amy Scholten, MPH
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may suspect Lyme disease based on symptoms and a known tick bite. Diagnosis is based on symptoms and the result of blood tests.
No tests are completely accurate in diagnosing Lyme disease. However, to support the diagnosis of Lyme disease, the doctor may order:
Routine blood tests will be done to find or rule out problems.
Antibody tests look for the body's defense against an infection. If a person has Lyme disease bacteria, their body will make certain antibodies. It takes about 4 weeks or more to detect these antibodies. Examples include:
Both of these tests can have false negative results. A false negative is when the test negative even though the person is infected. False positive results can also happen. A false positive is when the test is positive even though the person is not infected.
Tests may need to be repeated.
Antibody tests are often enough to make the diagnosis.
Additional tests may be done to look for Lyme disease. They may include:
Direct Detection Tests
These tests look for the bacteria in blood and other body fluids. Two main types are:
Spinal Fluid Test
This test is done if there are nervous system symptoms. It is to see if Lyme disease is causing the symptoms. Spinal fluid is tested for bacteria using one of the tests listed above. It involves a lumbar puncture—a needle inserted into the spine to remove the fluid.
Lyme disease can sometimes affect the heart. This test may be done if there is heart inflammation.
A skin biopsy takes and tests a sample of skin. It may be used to rule out causes of symptoms, such as cancer.
Diagnosis and testing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/diagnosistesting/index.html. Accessed November 12, 2021.
Lyme disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/lyme-disease. Accessed November 11, 2021.
Lyme disease diagnosis. Lyme Disease website. Available at: https://www.lymedisease.org/lyme-basics/lyme-disease/diagnosis. Accessed November 12, 2021.
Ross Russell AL, Dryden MS, et.al. Lyme disease: diagnosis and management. Pract Neurol. 2018;18(6):455-464.
Last reviewed November 2018 by David L. Horn, MD
Last Updated: 12/20/2014