Munchausen's syndrome by proxy and Lyme disease: medical misogyny or diagnostic mystery?

Med Hypotheses. 2005;65(3):440-7. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2005.04.009.


Chronic, tertiary Lyme disease, a vector-borne infection most accurately designated neuroborreliosis, is often misdiagnosed. Infectors of the human brain, Lyme borrelial spirochetes are neurotropic, similar to the spirochetes of syphilis. Symptoms of either disease may be stable and persistent, transient and inconsistent or severe yet fleeting. Characteristics may be incompatible with established knowledge of neurological dermatomes, appearing to conventional medical eyes as anatomically impossible, thus creating confusion for doctors, parents and child patients. Physicians unfamiliar with Lyme patients' shifting, seemingly vague, emotional, and/or bizarre-sounding complaints, frequently know little about late-stage spirochetal disease. Consequently, they may accuse mothers of fabricating their children's symptoms--the so-called Munchausen's by proxy (MBP) "diagnoses." Women, following ancient losses of feminine authority in provinces of religion, ethics, and healing - disciplines comprising known fields of early medicine, have been scapegoated throughout history. In the Middle Ages, women considered potentially weak-minded devil's apprentices became victims of witch-hunts throughout Europe and America. Millions of women were burned alive at the stake. Modern medicine's tendency to trivialize women's "offbeat" concerns and the fact that today's hurried physicians of both genders tend to seek easy panaceas, frequently result in the misogyny of mother-devaluation, especially by doctors who are spirochetally naïve. These factors, when involving cases of cryptic neuroborreliosis, may lead to accusations of MBP. Thousands of children, sick from complex diseases, have been forcibly removed from mothers who insist, contrary to customary evaluations, that their children are ill. The charges against these mothers relate to the idea they believe their children sick to satisfy warped internal agendas of their own. "MBP mothers" are then vilified, frequently jailed and publicly shamed for the "sins" of advocating for their children. In actuality, many such cases involve an unrecognized Lyme borreliosis causation that mothers may insist is valid despite negative tests. Doctors who have utilized MBP tactics against mothers are likely to be unaware that in advanced borreliosis, seronegativity is often the rule, a principle disagreed upon by its two extant, published, peer-reviewed, Standards of Care. These are guidelines for Lyme disease management--the older system questioning the existence of persistent Lyme and the newer system relying on established clinical criteria. Mothers must be free to obtain the family's preferred medical care by choosing between physicians practicing within either system without fear of reprisal. Doctors and mothers together may then explore medical options with renewed mutual respect toward the best interest of children's health.

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic Errors* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Lyme Disease / diagnosis*
  • Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy / diagnosis*
  • Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy / legislation & jurisprudence