Q: My mom was diagnosed with Lyme disease about three years ago. Due to her diagnosis, she now thinks everything she sees or finds could be a bug or insect. She is constantly rubbing her body looking for “bugs” and if for some reason she finds a little dust or trash, she says it’s a bug.
Could this be a symptom related to her Lyme disease, some kind of paranoia, or an OCD problem? Pleased tell me what I can do to make it stop.
A: Yes to all three counts. No one wants a tick embedded in their skin that they have to take a series of antibiotics for and that causes unpleasant symptoms. Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick. Symptoms may include fatigue, headache, fever, a rash that many times resembles a bull’s eye ring, and more. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system. On the positive side, most cases of Lyme can be successfully treated with an antibiotic such as docycycline. Diagnosis is made through a patient’s history and lab testing. It is important to understand that not every tick that bites is a Lyme carrier and even ticks that carry the Lyme bacteria do not always transmit the disease when they b ite, so there is no real need for panic each time a tick bites. The key is to do a complete a body check daily so if a tick is on the skin it can be removed early when it is feeding and hopefully before it transmits the disease.
Paranoia is believed influenced by anxiety and fear – sometimes to the point of delusion and being irrational. If your mother was completely undone by her Lyme experience, she could be suffering from paranoia as a result; however, generally speaking, an individual who is paranoid feels threatened, has fears, distrusts others, and more. If your mother now has a phobia of “bugs” invading her body, it certainly could have stemmed from her Lyme disease experience. OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is characterized by thoughts of fear, concern, anxiety, uneasiness and obsessions and compulsions. Symptoms of OCD may include such things as repeatedly washing hands to the stage their hands are raw and bleeding. They may take a step into a room, back away, and repeat the process three times prior to physically entering. They may arrange pencils or crayons in a particular pattern again and again and become extremely distressed if they are found out of order. They may appear paranoid and may be potentially psychotic.
I don’t know how long it has been since your mother had a physical examination but it may be in everyone’s best interests to take her to her physician for a complete examination and blood work. If she is fatigued, she may be anemic. If she is hyper-active, she may have a thyroid abnormality. The possibilities are countless. This may appear extreme, yet if all the testing and the exam are normal, her physician and her family should then be able to help her realize there isn’t a problem. If, on the other hand, her physician feels she may require some professional help, perhaps seeing a therapist or psychiatrist might be an appropriate next step. Enlist the help of her health care professional. You may be glad you did.