Background and methods: Lyme disease, caused by the tick-borne spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, is associated with a wide variety of neurologic manifestations. To define further the chronic neurologic abnormalities of Lyme disease, we studied 27 patients (age range, 25 to 72 years) with previous signs of Lyme disease, current evidence of immunity to B. burgdorferi, and chronic neurologic symptoms with no other identifiable cause. Eight of the patients had been followed prospectively for 8 to 12 years after the onset of infection.
Results: Of the 27 patients, 24 (89 percent) had a mild encephalopathy that began 1 month to 14 years after the onset of the disease and was characterized by memory loss, mood changes, or sleep disturbance. Of the 24 patients, 14 had memory impairment on neuropsychological tests, and 18 had increased cerebrospinal fluid protein levels, evidence of intrathecal production of antibody to B. burgdorferi, or both. Nineteen of the 27 patients (70 percent) had polyneuropathy with radicular pain or distal paresthesias; all but two of these patients also had encephalopathy. In 16 patients electrophysiologic testing showed an axonal polyneuropathy. One patient had leukoencephalitis with asymmetric spastic diplegia, periventricular white-matter lesions, and intrathecal production of antibody to B. burgdorferi. Among the 27 patients, associated symptoms included fatigue (74 percent), headache (48 percent), arthritis (37 percent), and hearing loss (15 percent). At the time of examination, chronic neurologic abnormalities had been present from 3 months to 14 years, usually with little progression. Six months after a two-week course of intravenous ceftriaxone (2 g daily), 17 patients (63 percent) had improvement, 6 (22 percent) had improvement but then relapsed, and 4 (15 percent) had no change in their condition.
Conclusions: Months to years after the initial infection with B. burgdorferi, patients with Lyme disease may have chronic encephalopathy, polyneuropathy, or less commonly, leukoencephalitis. These chronic neurologic abnormalities usually improve with antibiotic therapy.