Lyme disease is a multisystemic illness that can affect the central nervous system (CNS), causing neurologic and psychiatric symptoms. The goal of this article is to familiarize psychiatrists with this spirochetal illness.
Relevant books, articles, and abstracts from academic conferences were perused, and additional articles were located through computerized searches and reference sections from published articles.
Up to 40% of patients with Lyme disease develop neurologic involvement of either the peripheral or central nervous system. Dissemination to the CNS can occur within the first few weeks after skin infection. Like syphilis, Lyme disease may have a latency period of months to years before symptoms of late infection emerge. Early signs include meningitis, encephalitis, cranial neuritis, and radiculoneuropathies. Later, encephalomyelitis and encephalopathy may occur. A broad range of psychiatric reactions have been associated with Lyme disease including paranoia, dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, major depression, anorexia nervosa, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Depressive states among patients with late Lyme disease are fairly common, ranging across studies from 26% to 66%. The microbiology of Borrelia burgdorferi sheds light on why Lyme disease can be relapsing and remitting and why it can be refractory to normal immune surveillance and standard antibiotic regimens.
Psychiatrists who work in endemic areas need to include Lyme disease in the differential diagnosis of any atypical psychiatric disorder. Further research is needed to identify better laboratory tests and to determine the appropriate manner (intravenous or oral) and length (weeks or months) of treatment among patients with neuropsychiatric involvement.