Non-specific symptoms and post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome in patients with Lyme borreliosis: a prospective cohort study in Belgium (2016–2020)

Humtick Hospital Group, Grégoire Wieërs, Niko Speybroeck, Katrien Tersago

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    Background: Patients with Lyme borreliosis (LB) may report persisting non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, widespread musculoskeletal pain or cognitive difficulties. When present for more than 6 months and causing a reduction in daily activities, this is often referred to as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS). This study aimed to compare the occurrence of symptoms between LB patients and controls, to estimate the proportion of LB patients developing PTLDS and to identify risk factors. Methods: A prospective cohort study was set up including three subpopulations: patients with an erythema migrans (EM) (i) or disseminated/late LB (ii) and a non-LB control group (iii). At 6- and 12-months follow-up, the occurrence of several symptoms, including six symptoms used to define PTLDS, i.e. muscle pain, joint pain, fatigue, memory problems, difficulties concentrating and problems finding words, and impact on daily activities, was compared between LB patients and controls. Finally, the proportion of LB patients developing PTLDS as defined by the Infectious Disease Society of America was estimated, including a time frame for symptoms to be present. Results: Although the risk of presenting PTLDS-related symptoms was significantly higher in EM patients (n = 120) compared to controls (n = 128) at 6 months follow-up, the risk of presenting at least one of these symptoms combined with impact on daily activities was not significantly higher in EM patients, at either 6- or 12-months follow-up. A significant association was found between disseminated/late LB (n = 15) and the occurrence of any PTLDS-symptom with an impact on daily activities at both time points. The proportion of patients with PTLDS was estimated at 5.9% (95% CI 2.7–12.9) in EM patients and 20.9% (95% CI 6.8–64.4) in patients with disseminated/late LB (RR = 3.53, 95% CI 0.98–12.68, p = 0.053). No significant risk factors were identified, which may be explained by small sample sizes. Conclusions: In our study, PTLDS was present in both LB cohorts, yet with a higher percentage in disseminated/late LB patients. Additional research is needed into risk factors for and causes of this syndrome. In addition, development and validation of standardized methods to assess the PTLDS case definition, easily applicable in practice, is of great importance.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number756
    JournalBMC Infectious Diseases
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


    • Disseminated Lyme borreliosis
    • Erythema migrans
    • Lyme borreliosis
    • Persisting non-specific symptoms
    • Post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome


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