DEAR DR. ROACH: Can Lyme disease send a person into Parkinson’s disease? I tested positive for Lyme — I had the bulls-eye rash, fever and terrible headaches. After a month on doxycycline, my left arm started shaking and my neurologist diagnosed me with Parkinson’s. The doctor said it had nothing to do with the Lyme disease. What is your opinion? — S.M.
ANSWER: I can absolutely understand why you might suspect that the neurologist could be wrong. The coincidence seems too much to believe. However, I think your neurologist is probably correct. The different types of neurological complications of Lyme disease are many and varied. The most common are any combination of meningitis symptoms (inflammation of the lining of the brain, with headache, fever, stiff neck and light sensitivity); disorders of the cranial nerves (especially the facial nerve, so people with neurological Lyme disease can look like they have Bell’s palsy); and damage to peripheral nerves, causing pain and weakness or numbness, often resembling sciatica (but may include other parts of the body).
A detailed neurological exam by a neurologist would look for signs of Parkinson’s disease — not just the tremor you describe, but also muscle rigidity and changes in gait. These would be very unusual in Lyme disease. I did find cases resembling some aspects of Parkinson’s disease, but they improved with treatment. It is possible that the stress of the Lyme disease hastened the onset of Parkinson’s disease you were destined to get.
I say your neurologist is “probably correct” because what I found — absence of data to support a correlation — does not mean that there is no correlation, and it is possible that time may prove Lyme disease is connected to Parkinson’s. However, I think it’s unlikely.
DEAR DR. ROACH: Ever since my mother became ill, my father’s health has gone downhill. He has trouble walking and getting up from a sitting position, and he has hardly any feeling in his hands. It has gotten so bad that he has to pick things up with the webbing of his fingers then manipulate it to the correct position.
His doctor claims that this is old age, but I fear it could be a bone issue. A friend of mine many years ago found that she could not raise her arm past her shoulders and subsequently had neck surgery at the age of 80 to correct it. My father is 77 and was fine until recently. Is this really “old age,” or could something else be wrong? — J.P.
ANSWER: It is NOT “old age.”
It’s a problem with his nervous system, but I can’t tell you what exactly without a more comprehensive evaluation. There are several likely possibilities, including carpal tunnel syndrome, but many others as well. He should have an evaluation. A neurologist would be an excellent place to start.
- ROACH WRITES: A recent column on itchy ears generated a lot of letters from readers, mostly asking whether this was due to allergies. One person found that it was the dye from shampoo that seemed to cause the symptom. Several people wrote in that treatment with medicated selenium shampoo helped solve their problem.
As always, I appreciate helpful suggestions from readers.
Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual questions, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.
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