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A Lyme disease test detects antibodies to the Lyme disease bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi in the blood. Lyme disease bacteria are spread by certain kinds of ticks.
Lyme disease can be hard to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to those of many other illnesses. If you and your doctor think you have Lyme disease, your doctor will do a careful medical history and physical exam. Antibody tests can sometimes be used to help identify Lyme disease. Other tests may be done in certain situations.
Antibody tests are the most commonly used tests to help identify Lyme disease. Antibody testing may also be done on fluid from the spine or from a joint.
It may take up to 2 months after becoming infected before antibodies can be detected in a blood test. Once formed, antibodies usually stay in your system for many years, even after successful treatment of the disease. Finding antibodies to the Lyme disease bacteria does not tell whether you were infected recently or sometime in the past.
There are two types of antibody tests to detect Lyme disease.
Antibody testing should be done in a two-step process, using the ELISA followed by the Western blot test. The Western blot test (which is a more specific test than the ELISA) should be done in all people who have tested positive or borderline positive (equivocal) in an ELISA test.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing detects the genetic material (DNA) of the Lyme disease bacteria. PCR testing may be used to identify a current (active) infection if you have symptoms of Lyme disease that have not gotten better with antibiotic treatment. PCR testing is not done as often as antibody testing because it requires technical skill and expensive equipment. Also, standards have not yet been developed for PCR testing and there is a risk of false-positive test results.
A Lyme disease test is done to diagnose Lyme disease in people who have symptoms of Lyme disease. Symptoms may include:
Symptoms of chronic Lyme disease infection include joint pain, stiffness, and problems with the heart, brain, or nerves.
Testing is most accurate when you have risk factors for Lyme disease or symptoms of the disease.
In general, there's nothing you have to do before this test, unless your doctor tells you to.
A health professional uses a needle to take a blood sample, usually from the arm.
When a blood sample is taken, you may feel nothing at all from the needle. Or you might feel a quick sting or pinch.
There is very little chance of having a problem from this test. When a blood sample is taken, a small bruise may form at the site.
Test results are usually available in 1 to 2 weeks.
No antibodies to Lyme disease bacteria are found.
The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test does not find any Lyme disease bacteria DNA.
Antibodies to Lyme disease bacteria are found.
The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test detects Lyme disease bacteria DNA.
A normal, or negative, test for Lyme disease can mean one of the following:
An abnormal, or positive, test for Lyme disease can mean one of the following:
The PCR test may be done to confirm an infection if you have a positive antibody test result.
Current as of:
September 23, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineChristine Hahn MD - EpidemiologyW. David Colby IV MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
Current as of: September 23, 2020
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Christine Hahn MD - Epidemiology & W. David Colby IV MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
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