Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert.
Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the US. It is a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi and, in some cases, by Borrelia mayonii.
It is feared, as it causes prolonged and chronic illness.
The illness it causes varies greatly in severity and duration among the individuals.
It means that it may cause just a fever and headache in some, while in others, severe joint disorders, worsening of autoimmune conditions, and several months of weakness.
Since its signs are so diverse, diagnosing based on signs and symptoms is challenging.
There is lots of information on the internet regarding the disease, but regretfully, there is lots of misinformation, too.
Lyme disease is not a rare condition, with estimated about eight people affected by it out of 100,000. Each year about 479000 Americans are diagnosed and treated.
But, experts think that real numbers are much greater as many cases remain undiagnosed or unreported.
In this article, we shall cover the following key points:
- Lyme disease and male infertility
- Libido & sexual function
- Other symptoms
- Fertility testing
Does Lyme disease cause male infertility?
That is quite a complex question. In short, it does not appear to affect testicles and sperm health directly or cause male infertility in significant numbers.
However, things are more complex.
It causes chronic and prolonged illness, which may lead to infertility in many.
Additionally, there are reports that a similar kind of infection causes infertility in some animals.
Thus, it would be correct to say that Lyme disease is not the significant cause of male infertility.
However, one cannot rule out that it could be the primary cause in some cases of male infertility.
Lyme disease is challenging to diagnose
Lyme is quite tricky to diagnose and remains undiagnosed in many cases. It may cause fevers, chills, muscle and joint aches, and swollen notes within 3 to 30 days of insect bite.
Although rash occurs in most cases of insect bit, it does not happen in many cases.
Therefore, diagnosing becomes relatively easier if these symptoms occur along with a typical insect bit rash.
However, in the absence of bite rash, diagnosing the condition may be difficult as similar kinds of signs are present in many other disease conditions.
The blood test can help confirm the diagnosis in most cases.
However, the test might be false in early disease days due to low antibody levels.
What is worrisome are the late signs of Lyme that might also be male infertility
Libido and sexual function
Acute Lyme illness would not cause male infertility, as there are no such reports. Moreover, it does not affect testicles or male sexual organs.
The good news is that even late-stage illness is highly unlikely to cause infertility, though it may cause a decline in sexual function and libido due to prolonged illness.
It is not clear what is the risk of developing infertility from prolonged or poorly treated Lyme disease, but the risk seems to be pretty low.
It is more likely to cause subfertility rather than a complete loss of fertility.
Prolonged illness has signs like headaches, neck stiffness, facial palsy, arthritis, joint pains, intermittent body aches and muscle pain, irregular heartbeats, inflammation, shooting nerve pains, or numbness.
Since it seems to affect nerves, it is pretty likely to cause sexual dysfunction in a small number of cases.
What is worrisome is that many people continue to live with sub-optimal health even after successful treatment.
This condition is referred to as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS).
Here the mystery increases as science do not know what causes the PTLDS. Some suggest the autoimmune origins of such a prolonged and vague illness.
However, it is just a hypothesis and is not a confirmed underlying mechanism.
The symptoms of PTLDS are equally vague, like body aches, fatigue, and even episodes of joint pains.
This condition may continue for several months and even a year after successfully eradicating the infection from the body.
PTLDS has become the subject of many intrigues as science has no understanding of the conditions yet.
Thus, it is not rare for people to associate infertility or subfertility with Lyme disease, which cannot be ruled out completely.
Nevertheless, there is some evidence that Lyme disease may lead to subfertility or infertility in a small number of cases.
In some instances, it appears to cause urinary bladder detrusor dysfunction.
It means changes in the bladder function and associated problems with libido. However, there is no evidence if these issues cause a low sperm count or infertility.
There is definitely a need to understand further the role of Lyme in reduced male libido and infertility.
Though studies show that decline in libido is quite common and may affect almost 50% of cases, but science has paid little attention to infertility.
Needless to say that there are specific challenges in understanding to what degree Lyme disease affects male fertility.
Libido is quite simple to measure and is self-reported, caused by the prolonged and chronic ailment. However, there is a need to carry out specific tests when it comes to fertility.
But, the problem is that many men affected by Lyme disease do not go through fertility tests.
It is because many of them are simply not planning to have children in the near future.
Thus, these men are more concerned about changes in urinary function and libido rather than changes in fertility levels.
To conclude, Lyme disease is a complex disorder.
Though it is the most common vector-borne infection in the US, it is not fully understood by science. As a result, many Lyme cases remain undiagnosed and unreported.
Even worse, science is still struggling to understand the cause of prolonged illness in those who have undergone successful antibiotic treatment/eradication of the infection.
Therefore, it would be correct to say that although Lyme disease is not associated with male infertility, it may be the cause of the problem in many cases.
However, there is still a need for more studies to appreciate the gravity of the situation.