In recent years, the medical spotlight has increasingly been shining on Lyme disease, the bacterial tick-borne illness that often comes with a host of vague, mysterious symptoms.
The widespread illness is often considered the “great imitator” because its symptoms typically mimic other health conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and others.
Getting a proper Lyme disease diagnosis remains challenging because testing is often inconclusive, potentially leaving those impacted to suffer for weeks, months, or years before being correctly treated. Although treatments do exist, there is no cure.
Here are 14 celebrities who have spoken out about their experiences with Lyme disease, helping to shed light on this mysterious tick-borne illness.
Avril Lavigne went public with her Lyme battle in 2015 and is now an advocate for those with the illness.
Lavigne opened up about her struggle with Lyme disease in a June 2015 interview with “Good Morning America,” revealing that she’d been bedridden in October 2014. She called that the “worst time” in her life after seeing specialists and doctors who misdiagnosed her with chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.
In October 2018, the “Complicated” singer told Billboard she felt unwell during her 2014 tour. She recalled thinking, “I’m achy, I’m fatigued, I cannot get the f— out of bed – what the f— is wrong with me?” as her symptoms progressively got worse.
During one of her darkest days battling with side effects of the disease, Lavigne said she wrote her 2018 song “Head Above Water,” telling Billboard, “I had accepted that I was dying … And literally under my breath, I was like, ‘God, help me keep my head above the water.'”
Lavigne has also started the Avril Lavigne Foundation, which aims to bring awareness to those dealing with Lyme and other serious illnesses and disabilities.
She told “GMA” viewers that might be suffering, “There is hope. Lyme disease does exist and you can get better.”
Ben Stiller also had trouble getting an accurate diagnosis.
In 2011, Stiller told The Hollywood Reporter about his Lyme disease saying, “I got it in Nantucket, Massachusetts, a couple of years ago. My knee became inflamed and they couldn’t figure out what it was, then they found out it wasLyme.”
He says he’s now symptom-free but notes that Lyme will never leave his system.
Shania Twain says her battle with Lyme has impacted her career.
Twain dominated the pop and country charts in the 1990s and early 2000s, but by 2004, she’d contracted Lyme disease, which she attributes to issues with her vocal cords.
In 2017, she told Canadian news outlet CBC that she was bitten by a tick when on tour in Norfolk, Virginia. She said she saw a tick fall of her and she immediately began to see troubling Lyme disease symptoms pop up.
“I was on tour, so I almost fell off the stage every night. I was very, very dizzy and didn’t know what was going on. It’s just one of those things you don’t suspect,” she added.
It took Twain years to figure out that she had dysphonia, a neurological disorder of the vocal cords in which muscles can spasm and impact speech, which she attributes to the Lyme bacteria.
She now warns others about the disease.
“[Lyme] is very dangerous because you have a very short window to catch it and then treat it and then even when you treat it, you could still very well be left with effects, which is what happened to me,” Twain told CBC. “It’s a debilitating disease and extremely dangerous. You can’t play around with it, so you’ve got to check yourself for ticks.”
In 2017, she prepared for a musical comeback and began advocating on behalf of fellow individuals with Lyme disease, telling E! News it’s “such a silent evil thing.”
Kelly Osbourne went undiagnosed for nearly a decade.
The former reality star has been open about her addiction to prescription drugs, but in her 2017 book “There Is No F*cking Secret: Letters From a Badass Bitch,” Osbourne reveals she’d unknowingly been battling Lyme disease for years, too.
She explained that her mum, Sharon, purchased her dad, Ozzy, a reindeer sanctuary for their home in England for his 56th birthday in 2004. She said shortly after she was bitten by a tick, which Ozzy burned off of her.
For years after, she experienced “travelling pain,” ranging from stomach aches to a sore throat.
Osbourne revealed that doctors simply kept giving her prescriptions even though she suspected she was battling Lyme. An alternative medicine specialist finally tested her and after her positive diagnosis, she flew to Germany for stem cell treatment.
Osbourne wrote that she was initially afraid to speak publicly about Lyme disease because “it seems like the trendy disease to have right now, and I’m tired of seeing sad celebrities play the victim on the cover of weekly mags,” but that she now acts as her own health advocate.
Ally Hilfiger battled the disease for decades and chronicled her journey in a memoir.
Osbourne is not the only reality star to deal with Lyme disease – the former “Rich Girls” star went misdiagnosed for a long time after being bit by a tick at 7 years old in 1992.
In her book “Bite Me: How Lyme Disease Stole My Childhood, Made Me Crazy, and Almost Killed Me,” Hilfiger chronicles her battle with the invisible illness and the all-too-visible symptoms that followed.
In 2016, she told Health magazine, “I remember getting bit by a tick and my parents sent it off to the labs. And we got inconclusive tests back.”
For 10 years, she says she multiple doctors gave her a variety of diagnoses from fibromyalgia to rheumatoid arthritis.
The emotional battle is just as hard as the physical one, according to the fashion designer.
“One of the biggest issues I think a lot of Lyme sufferers have is that some days you can have good days. And other days you can feel really feel horribly and not be able to get out of bed,” she told Health. “And sometimes you start to doubt whether or not you’re really feeling what your feeling, if that makes any sense. And you feel disbelieved.”
These days, she’s doing much better, telling the magazine that finally receiving the correct diagnosis felt like she “won the lottery.”