Lyme Disease SPECT Scans


Conducting a Single Photon Emission Computer Tomography (SPECT) scan may help elucidate the findings of a Lyme disease MRI according to some self-proclaimed ‘Lyme Literate Medical Doctors’ (LLMDs) who consider a majority of patients with chronic Lyme disease to have alterations in blood flow in the brain. These changes in vascularity are thought to affect the temporal and frontal lobes primarily, with ramifications for cognitive processing and mood regulation. Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome may have changes involving the occipital lobe that show up on SPECT scans which could help differentiate it from Lyme neuroborreliosis.

SPECT Scans Primarily for Research

SPECT scans are considered by many physicians to be primarily a research tool, and not appropriate as a means to formulate a treatment plan for a patient. Alterations in blood flow in the brain may not be a primary symptom of a condition such as CFS or Lyme disease, but may, rather, be a secondary reaction of the brain and even constitute a protective response in some cases, where decreased blood flow actually prevents hyperperfusion damage to brain tissue. The SPECT scan also involves the injection of radioactive material so as to create the colored ‘map’ of blood flow and chemical reactions in brain tissue, which ca be dangerous in patient groups particularly sensitive to radiation, such as children. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) warns against using SPECT scans in children and adolescents, as well as for adults as anything other than a tightly controlled research tool, and considers this type of scan to be inappropriate for formulating a treatment protocol.

SPECT Scans, Lyme Disease, and Insurance

Patients working with doctors to treat suspected chronic Lyme disease may be referred to a clinic for a SPECT scan but the patients should be aware that such scans are considered experimental for all but a few medical conditions and are extremely unlikely to be covered by insurance. Promotional literature from such clinics may claim that most doctors remain ‘ignorant’ of the potential uses of SPECT scans for illnesses such as Lyme disease, but by not engaging in sound medical research these doctors are hindering rather than helping the effort to improve treatment and prognosis of Lyme disease and such conditions. Whilst interesting in themselves these brain scans are not considered useful in devising a treatment strategy or in actual diagnosis of a condition such as Lyme disease and patients should be wary of those advising SPECT scans for Lyme disease, especially as some of the most ardent advocates are those with financial interests in the technique.

SPECT for Chronic Lyme Disease or Post-Lyme Syndrome

Some evidence is emerging, however, that SPECT scans may be useful in cases of post-Lyme disease syndrome or chronic Lyme disease, where a patient is seronegative but remains symptomatic of Lyme disease. A SPECT scan is not diagnostic of Lyme disease but where the scan is considered abnormal it may help to differentiate between a medical and a psychiatric cause of non-specific symptoms present in some chronic Lyme disease patients. Where a pre-treatment scan is available it may be possible to demonstrate a change in blood flow in the brain following successful treatment, although, again, such scans are more likely useful as research tools than for the individual patient.

Continue Reading –> How A SPECT Scan Works