Long-term assessment of fatigue in patients with culture-confirmed Lyme disease

Am J Med. 2015 Feb;128(2):181-4. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2014.09.022. Epub 2014 Oct 15.


Background: Fatigue is a common symptom with numerous causes. Severe fatigue is thought to be an important manifestation of post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. The frequency with which severe fatigue occurs as a long-term sequela in prospectively followed patients with Lyme disease is unknown.

Methods: Patients with culture-confirmed Lyme disease who originally presented with erythema migrans have been evaluated annually in a prospective study to determine their long-term outcome. In 2011-2013, subjects were evaluated for fatigue using an 11-item Fatigue Severity Scale (FSS-11) that has been used in studies of post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. An FSS-11 score of ≥4.0 is indicative of severe fatigue.

Results: A total of 100 subjects were assessed, 52% of whom were male; the mean age was 64.9 years (range, 42-86 years). The mean duration of follow-up was 15.4 years (range, 11-20 years). Nine subjects had severe fatigue but in none as a consequence of Lyme disease. Only 3 subjects were thought to possibly have persistent fatigue from Lyme disease. The FSS-11 value for these 3 individuals was less than 4, averaging 2.27, and none had functional impairment.

Conclusions: Severe fatigue was found in 9 patients (9%) with culture-confirmed early Lyme disease at 11 to 20 years after presentation, but was due to causes other than Lyme disease. Fatigue of lesser severity was possibly due to Lyme disease, but was found in only 3% of 100 patients, and therefore is rarely a long-term complication of this infection.

Keywords: Borrelia burgdorferi; Fatigue; Lyme disease; Post-Lyme disease symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Borrelia burgdorferi
  • Fatigue / epidemiology
  • Fatigue / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lyme Disease / complications*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Time Factors