If You Feel This Kind of Pain, Get Your Blood Checked
Leaving it untreated can result in devastating symptoms.
Everyone experiences a mysterious ache or pain every now and then, and it can be difficult to distinguish between a passing discomfort and something more serious. But experts say that if you experience one certain type of pain, a blood test is the quickest path to a diagnosis since it is often associated with Lyme disease. Prompt treatment of this illness may save you years of disquieting symptoms, including headaches and stiffness, dizziness, shortness of breath, inflammation of the brain or spinal cord, and more. Read on to learn which type of pain may mean it's time for a blood test, and what else could be at the root of your discomfort.
If you have pain that migrates around the body, get your blood checked for Lyme disease.
If you experience unexplained pain in your joints, experts say it may be useful to have your blood tested for Lyme disease. That's because roughly half of patients with untreated or chronic Lyme experience intermittent episodes of arthritis, resulting in temporary pain and stiffness that can migrate around the body.
In fact, a 1995 study in The American Journal of Medicine (AJM) found that "musculoskeletal involvement, particularly arthritis, is a common feature of Lyme disease. Early in the illness, patients may experience migratory musculoskeletal pain in joints, bursae, tendons, muscle, or bone in one or a few locations at a time, frequently lasting only hours or days in a given location."
This pain is often accompanied by swelling, says the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). "The main feature of Lyme arthritis is obvious swelling of one or a few joints. While the knees are affected most often, other large joints such as the shoulder, ankle, elbow, jaw, wrist, and hip can also be involved," the health authority writes.
There may also be other underlying causes.
In addition to Lyme disease, there are several other possible explanations for migratory, arthritic pain. According to the Merck Manual, a consumer journal produced by the pharmaceutical company, you may experience acute arthritis affecting multiple joints as the result of a viral infection, a joint disorder, a flare-up of a chronic joint disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatioc arthritis, or gout. In rare cases, gonorrhea, streptococcal bacterial infections, lupus, or reactive arthritis could also be to blame.
It's also important to note that Lyme disease is often called "the great imitator" for its ability to mimic many other illnesses. This often results in misdiagnosis, with Lyme most commonly being mistaken for ALS, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and various forms of arthritis.
Look out for these symptoms of Lyme disease.
According to the CDC, Lyme disease is diagnosed using three metrics: symptoms, physical findings, and the likelihood of exposure to a tick bite.
Though Lyme disease can have a wide range of symptoms, the most typical are "fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic [bullseye] skin rash called erythema migrans," says the health authority. If these symptoms are present, a doctor may inquire about possible exposure, especially if you live in the northeastern U.S. or certain parts of the midwest, which are both considered high risk locations. However, these factors will only broadly point toward Lyme as a possible diagnosis until a blood test confirms presence of Borrelia burgdorferi or Borrelia mayonii bacteria.
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Here's when to see a doctor about migratory joint pain.
Regardless of its underlying cause, the Merck Manual says you should call a doctor for a "prompt, rapid evaluation" regarding your migrating joint pain if you experience certain symptoms. These include joint swelling, warmth, or redness at the joint; new rashes, spots of purple blotches; mouth, nose, or genital sores; chest pain, shortness of breath, or a severe cough; abdominal pain; fever, sweats, weight loss, or chills; eye redness or pain.
A blood test can confirm a case of Lyme disease, at which point your doctor will most likely provide a 10 to 14 day course of antibiotic treatment. Most people fully recover after medication, but be sure to speak with your doctor if your symptoms persist after taking antibiotics.