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Tick-borne borreliosis (Borrelia burgdorferi) is a common and complex disorder affecting the skin, the joints and the nervous system. It progresses through different clinical stages. The clinical spectrum of neuroborreliosis has expanded since the introduction and widespread application of specific serological tests. We have investigated 41 patients with Bannwarth’s meningopolyneuritis (MPN) as the classical form of neuroborreliosis, in a prospective (26 patients) and a retrospective (15 patients) study. When questioned, 19/41 patients reported a tick bite and only 15/41, erythema migrans as the characteristic early skin lesion. In 34/41 patients typical MPN characterized by painful radiculoneuritis and/or cranial neuritis, especially facial palsy, were seen. Among these, 3 had a complicated form with a progressive remitting relapsing course or focal central nervous system involvement (hemiparesis, cerebellar syndrome); 2 had mild meningitis and facial nerve palsy bilaterally without radicular pain; and in 5 radicular pain was the only symptom. MPN associated with
Lyme arthritis was observed only once. In 2 patients in the retrospective study (no antibiotics in the acute stage) we saw a chronic spinal cord disorder with spastic paresis several years after uncomplicated MPN, accompanied in 1 of them by acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans (ACA), the typical late-onset borrelia-induced dermatosis. In the acute stage of the
disease 40/41 patients had a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) syndrome compatible with MPN (mononuclear pleocytosis, blood-brain barrier dysfunction, elevated IgG and/or oligoclonal bands). IgG antibody titers against borrelia antigen were elevated in all patients in the serum and in 21/30 also in the CSF. In all patients pain was an early and prominent symptom; the first symptoms are usually felt in the region of the tick bite or the erythema, initially as diffuse myalgia, arthralgia or pain in the connective tissue. In the further course the migrating pain becomes more radicular in character, without being limited to defined dermatomic areas or peripheral nerves. The intense, burning pain is characterized by exacerbation during the night. Peripherally and centrally acting analgesics have only minor effects. Often neurological deficits are still absent at this time. Erythema migrans with radicular pain in the region of the dermatological lesion was observed in 2 patients. This is an early manifestation of MPN. After MPN and/or
Lyme arthritis a sympathetic reflex dystrophy (SRD) developed in 2 patients. In a further patient SRD was observed right at the beginning of the illness, immediately before MPN. There is a close clinical similarity between SRD and the acute stage of ACA. Therefore, borreliosis can be assumed to produce a painful skin dystrophy like SRD or ACA by direct injury to the sympathetic nerves even in the early clinical stage of the infection. The main conditions to be considered in the differential diagnosis are polymyalgia rheumatica; lumbar disk herniation; inflammatory radiculopathies of other origin (e.g. herpes zoster); painful neuropathies, including the diabetic thoraco-abdominal form; internal disorders of chest and abdomen with referred pain; lymphocytic meningitis of other origin, encephalomyelitis; and sympathetic reflex dystrophy. High-dose penicillin G i.v. is a potent analgesic in all patients with tick-borne neuroborreliosis.