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Medical Gaslighting and Lyme Disease: The Patient Experience

Canlyme Note: Most Lyme disease patients suffer not only from the illness but also at the hands of physicians.

Doctor checking up back of patient in hospital.

Published December 29, 2023 in Healthcare

Authored by Jennifer L. Fagen, Jeremy A. Shelton, Jenna Luché-Thayer

Abstract: Even though there are approximately half a million new cases of Lyme disease in the US annually, according to the CDC, it is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, which can result in a chronic, multisystemic condition. Lyme disease is a recognized public health threat and is a designated “notifiable disease”. As such, Lyme disease is mandated to be reported by the CDC. Despite this, both acute and chronic Lyme disease (CLD) have been relegated to the category of “contested illnesses”, which can lead to medical gaslighting. By analyzing results from an online survey of respondents with Lyme disease (n = 986), we elucidate the lived experiences of people who have been pushed to the margins of the medical system by having their symptoms attributed to mental illness, anxiety, stress, and aging. Further, respondents have had their blood tests and erythema migrans (EM) rashes discounted and were told that CLD simply does not exist. As a result, a series of fruitless consultations often result in the delay of a correct diagnosis, which has deleterious consequences. This is the first study that addresses an extensive range of gaslighting techniques experienced by this patient population.

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Fagen JL, Shelton JA, Luché-Thayer J. Medical Gaslighting and Lyme Disease: The Patient Experience. Healthcare. 2024; 12(1):78. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare12010078

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