Is Lyme Disease Fatal?

Lyme disease is the infection caused by bacteria. The bacteria evade the immune system by unknown mechanism and starts invading the vital organs of the body. The condition becomes more severe when the test fails to positively diagnose the patient. The bacteria primarily target the nervous system and the cardiac system and lead to fatal consequences. Thus, the approach is to diagnose the disease as soon as possible and thereafter treating it with appropriate therapy.

Is Lyme Disease Fatal?

Is Lyme Disease Fatal?

Whether Lyme disease is fatal or not, depends upon the time elapsed for diagnosis, starting of treatment and effectiveness of treatment. The effectiveness of the treatment also includes the adherence to the treatment. When either the proper diagnosis of the disease is not done, or proper treatment is not provided, the Lyme disease may move in to the second stage where the vital organs of the body such as brain and heart are severely affected and when these organs are damaged to such an extent that they no longer be able to function effectively, the result may be fatal. Lyme disease, in its severe form, affects the brain and heart. The symptoms related to brain may include neuropathy, visual disturbances, paralysis of the face, and meningitis like symptoms such as fever, stiff neck and severe headache. The other symptoms may include irritability, cognitive dysfunction and peripheral nerve damage. Further, it also affects the nerves controlling the respiration and may lead to respiratory failure. In heart, it is capable of causing Lyme carditis. It is estimated that approximately 7-8% of the infected people develop complication related to heart. Bacteria evade the immune system, and when remains untreated, may enter the heart cells and interfere in the proper conduction of electrical impulses. This may lead to cardiac arrhythmia. The other complication includes palpitations, shortness of breath and fainting. When these conditions persist for a long time, it may prove fatal as it may lead to complete heart block. In a study, it was found that Lyme disease is a rare cause of death in United States, but the risk increases with the delay in diagnosis and treatment.

Complications of Lyme Disease

In many cases of Lyme disease the patient goes asymptomatic for few days with only a rash at the site of bite. Thus, there is a delay in starting the treatment which increases the severity of infection. Further, if the patient experiences symptoms, being non-specific to Lyme disease, they may be due to various other diseases. This may end up consuming more time. The thing that adds to this complexity is the non-availability of highly sensitive diagnostic method for Lyme disease. The tests which are available in the current scenario carries the risk of providing false negative results. This may be due to low sensitivity to antibodies, non-availability of antibodies, immunosuppression and seronegative patient. The untreated form of this infection or delayed treatment may have the potential to mentally and physically debilitating the patients. Delay in treatment makes the condition worse and exposes the patient towards the following complications of Lyme disease:

  1. Chronic Joint Inflammation: There will be inflammation in the joints and the joints are swollen. There is also the tendonitis and pain.
  2. Neurological Diseases such as neuropathy, facial palsy, visual disturbances and meningitis symptoms.
  3. Cognitive Defects
  4. Carditis: It includes chest pain, palpitations and ECG changes.


The fatality proposition of the Lyme disease depends upon the proper diagnosis and time taken for the diagnosis of the disease. Due to unsophisticated methods of diagnosis, the test may false negative results. These delays cause the disease to go in to second stage which is hard to treat. Bacteria evades immune system and move in to the organs some of which are vital. If the bacteria attack the nervous system, the respiratory depression may occur leading to death. Further, the bacteria also attack the heart and may cause palpitation, fainting and shortness of breath. This may also lead to complete heart block leading to fatal consequences.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 20, 2020

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