What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by spirochete, a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called Borrelia Burgdorferi. It’s a serious affliction that can cause significant damage if left untreated. Borrelia burgdorferi is the most complex bacterium known to science. Borrelia burgdorferi takes three different forms to evade the immune system and antibiotics. The three forms are the spiral shape spirochete that has a cell wall, the cell wall deficient form, and the cyst form.
How Lyme disease operates
Most people get Lyme disease from a tick bite. Many people will get bit by a tick nymph. Nymphs are about the size of a poppy seed. They are so tiny and their bite is painless, many people do not even realize they have been bitten. The Nymph falls off and possibly can infect you, without you even knowing. Many times people will find a mature tick in them, and have to remove the tick.
After a bite of an infected tick, the bacterium screws itself into tissues, organs and joints. Lyme can affect any organ in the body, including the nervous system, brain, heart, muscles and joints. Over time, it can cause more serious damage including temporary paralysis and speech problems.
If you find a tick in your, It is really important to see a doctor. A round of antibiotics will be prescribed for a month to three months to make sure the bacteria will not make its way through the body.
If a person is lucky, within 24 hours to as long as a few weeks of being bitten by an infected tick, an erythema chronicum migrans rash, also known as a red bullseye will appear. It’s a telltale sign of Lyme disease, though only a small number of people get the rash. Whatever the case, the sooner a person becomes aware of Lyme disease the sooner they can start taking antibiotics or other treatment to attack it.
There is not enough evidence about the transmission from human to human, but some doctors believe it is possible. Ticks are not the only species that transmit Lyme disease. Live spirochetes have been found in mosquitos, fleas, mites, lice and biting flies. Deer, birds, mammals and rodents can all be carriers of Lyme disease.
Lyme disease occurs in four stages
Lyme disease is a progressive illness occurring in four stages, the fourth stage is called the chronic phase or chronic Lyme disease. Progression through the stages of Lyme disease in humans can take a number of months or in some cases years. Many people with Lyme disease are unaware that they have the infection in the early stages.
Early localized stage
Days to weeks after initial infection with the bullseye rash generally appearing during this stage if it appears. The best time to catch Lyme disease is as early as possible, namely in this stage. This can prevent Lyme disease symptoms and its co-infections from worsening and the potential for long-term side effects. Thus, antibiotic treatment during this stage can go a long way toward reducing time and cost of future treatments. Proper dosage and duration of antibiotics is a must to kill the Borrelia bacterium which will stop them from replicating.
Early dissemination stage
Weeks to months later, where the spirochetes spread through the bloodstream and a host of things can occur, such as body tissue damage, carditis and facial nerve palsy. In this stage, people might also experience fatigue, chills, headaches, stiff neck, fever and muscle aches. Sadly, many people with Lyme disease will experience this stage before they really know it, as Lyme disease so often goes misdiagnosed or untreated in its early stages.
Late dissemination stage
As long as a year after infection, with arthritis and other long-term side effects possible to happen at this point. Chronic Lyme disease sufferers will know this stage well. It is the stage where Lyme disease feels like it might never go away.
The earlier a person is diagnosed with Lyme disease, the better a chance they have of not developing chronic Lyme disease.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates about 300,000 cases a year of Lyme disease in the United States. Some doctors believe the number of yearly Lyme infections is much higher, as many people are misdiagnosed for other illnesses.
Many people will not know they have Lyme disease after they have been bitten. Listen to your body, get tested, and find a LLMD a Lyme Literate Doctor, who understands this complicated infection. Even after a long period of time, some people with Lyme disease still won’t be diagnosed because some tests won’t detect it. The right testing lab and a Lyme Literate Doctor plays a big role in diagnosing Lyme disease and it’s coinfections.
People with Lyme disease are often not diagnosed or are diagnosed improperly. Lyme disease is frequently misdiagnosed for other illnesses, as it can mimic many other illnesses. For this Lyme is called The Great Imitator.
Often patients are misdiagnosed as having an autoimmune disease or number of other illnesses.
Some of the illnesses Lyme can mimic include:
- Chronic sinusitis;
- Multiple sclerosis;
- Parkinson’s disease;
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Chronic fatigue syndrome;
- Psychiatric illnesses,
- Bipolar disorder
And there are many more.
Lyme disease is known as The Great Imitator, as it can mimic many different illnesses. It can affect any organ in the body, and cause over 150 symptoms. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Meningitis, MS, ALS, Alzheimer’s, Autism, ADHD, Parkinson’s, and Dystonia should all be considered as possible Lyme. It can mirror any neurological, cardiac, psychiatric, and arthritic multisystem disorder.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
- Flue like symptoms
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Poor sleep
- Red eyes
- Swollen glands
- Stiff neck
- Mood swings
- Neurological problems
- Skipped heart beat (heart related issues)
And there are many more
IGeneX Lab is the most highly recommended lab in detecting tick borne diseases.
Sometimes a bigger issue than Lyme are the Lyme co-infections. Bartonella, Babesia, and Erlichiosis, are the more common co-infections. Lyme disease treatment becomes more complicated when co-infections are involved.
Everyone can experience different symptoms; some people are symptoms free for a long time, before symptoms set in. In some cases it takes a short time to present itself and in some cases it can take years to present more symptoms and to get diagnosed.
Many Lyme patients report being misdiagnosed with a different condition before being properly diagnosed with Lyme disease.
Frequently misdiagnosed and misunderstood, Lyme disease isn’t covered by health insurance at this time, leaving families to have to pay thousands out of pocket. Hopefully in the future it will be recognized and covered.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose. Ironically, though, the disease has many symptoms.
Erythema migrans or Bull’s Eye rash: One of the tell-tale signs of Lyme disease, the Bull’s Eye rash typically appears during the early localized stage, days to weeks after infection. It generally shows up on fewer than half of Lyme disease sufferers, at the site of the bite, which is typically in the buttock, thigh or armpit. But it could be anywhere on the body. Pay attention to any changes to skin, especially after hiking or camping.
Aches and sore muscles: During the second stage of Lyme disease, the early dissemination stage, bacteria spreads throughout the bloodstream, damaging body tissue. Thus, fatigue, fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches and swollen joints are all common during this stage. Swollen lymph nodes and an enlarged spleen can also occur during this stage. Energy levels can be reduced far below normal.
Arthritis: This develops in more than half of Lyme disease patients, though it might take several months. Typically, arthritis occurs during the third or late dissemination stage of Lyme disease, up to a year after infection.
Gastrointestinal: Lyme disease begins in the gut, so naturally, many gastrointestinal issues are associated with it. These include discomfort, upset stomach, digestive problems, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal cramping and irritable bladder.
Nervous system: Roughly 15 percent of Lyme disease sufferers will have their nervous system affected. The most common related issues are meningitis and Bell’s palsy.
Cardiovascular: Around 8 percent of people infected with Lyme disease will experience irregular heartbeat, heart tissue inflammation and arrhythmia. Other common heart or pulmonary issues associated with Lyme disease include chest pain, rib soreness, palpitations, murmurs and carditis, an affecting of heart tissue.
Psychiatric: Lyme disease is harsh, able to both mimic and cause psychiatric issues during the late dissemination stage. Some of the more severe neurological disorders connected to Lyme disease include Parkinson’s disease, seizures, strokes, ALS-like, autism-like and multiple sclerosis-like syndrome. Mood, speech and memory can also be affected, as can sleep. Antibiotics used to treat Lyme disease can also be helpful for reducing psychiatric symptoms.
Reproductive: With a disease with as many symptoms as Lyme, it’s little wonder reproduction gets affected as well. Reproductive issues caused by Lyme disease include loss of libido, sexual dysfunction, menstrual irregularity for women and testicular pain for men.
Co-infections: Another common symptom of Lyme disease can be the many co-infections that can come with it and must be treated before the primary disease can be properly dealt with. Lyme co-infections include babesiosis, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and relapsing fever. Babesia can cause skipped heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath and red dots on skin.
Jarisch-Herxheimer: During this stage of Lyme disease, symptoms can seem heightened or more intense than usual while the body is releasing endotoxins. The good news is that this reaction means the body is in a healing state, though it won’t feel like this at the time.
Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS): This occurs in approximately 10 to 20 percent of people with Lyme disease, though doctors aren’t sure why. Some of the symptoms include fatigue, muscle and joint pain up to six months after antibiotic treatment.
Ticks can carry many bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoans all at the same time and transmit them in a single bite. Diseases acquired together with Lyme disease are known as co-infections. Anyone with Lyme disease is likely to have a co-infection as well.
All it takes is one bite from a tick for a person to get not only Lyme disease but any number of other ailments such as:
- Relapsing fever
- Rocky Mountain fever.
A person with a co-infection usually experiences more severe illness, more symptoms, and a longer recovery.
Overall, there are at least 20 co-infections associated with Lyme disease. And more are likely to develop, Buhner writes.
“Over the coming decades, we will be seeing the emergence of more of these kinds of stealth pathogens,” Buhner writes. “It’s time for our approaches, and understandings, to become more sophisticated.”
Why co-infections are common
The reason co-infections are so common with Lyme disease is because of the ticks whose bites cause it. As microscopically small as ticks are, they can still carry numerous different strains of bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoans and transmit them with a single bite. Stephen Harrod Buhner notes in his book Healing Lyme that an examination of Ixodes ticks discovered as many as 237 genera of microorganisms infectious to vertebrates.
Thus, as Buhner writes, “Co-infection in all biting arthropods is common; it is not an exception.”
Getting the right treatment for a co-infection
It is important that anyone getting tested for Lyme disease also be evaluated for any of the numerous other potential co-infections. Sometimes, some co-infections may take months to show on tests, like Babesia. Thus, it’s important to have a Lyme-literate doctor who understands the symptoms of co-infections, so they can retest.
Co-infections must be treated before Lyme disease can be properly treated and eradicated from the body. It is important to have a knowledgeable doctor who understands this complicated treatment for Lyme disease and Lyme co-infections.
Babesiosis – Babesia
There are numerous coinfections associated with Lyme disease. The hardest and longest of all of these to treat is Babesia.
Babesiosis – Babesia is an intracellular, malaria-like parasite, also known as a “piroplasm,” that infects red blood cells. Originally discovered by Victor Babes, a 19th century Romanian bacteriologist, Babesia is a protozoan parasite that is known to infect both wildlife and humans. Babesiosis, in turn, is a resultant disease. In certain cases, it can be life-threatening.
There are more than a dozen strains of Babesia, including Babesia microti and Babesia duncani. Babesia microti, while no picnic, is the milder of these two strains. It has been said that Babesia duncani is like Babesia microti on steroids.
In certain respects, Babesia is similar to ordinary Lyme disease. Each is transmitted from animals to humans via ticks. Though Lyme disease was first diagnosed in Old Lyme, Connecticut in 1975, Babesia is occurring more and more places these days — pretty much everywhere.
There are three ways that Babesia can be transmitted from animals to humans:
- Through the bite of an infected Ixodes scapularis tick, or deer tick, at the nymph stage;
- Through a blood transfusion from an infected person;
- From an infected mother to her baby, also known as a congenital transmission.
The first human infection for Babesia wasn’t reported until 1969. This is partly because until 1957, Babesia wasn’t thought to be a disease that affected humans.
Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment
It starts, so often, a high fever and chills. From there, as babesiosis progresses, patients may develop fatigue, headache, drenching sweats, muscle aches, chest pain, hip pain and shortness of breath, sometimes colloquially known as “air hunger.”
Prompt detection of Babesia and babesiosis is vital. Aside from having some general knowledge of the symptoms, there are other ways to determine if the ailment is present. Babesiosis is diagnosed through using a microscope to look at blood smears. Urine tests can be useful as well. People at risk include the elderly, people receiving blood transfusions and those who’ve traveled to endemic areas. People should also be aware if they’ve traveled to an area with heavy rainfall or high humidity, as each of these things can accommodate ticks carrying Babesia.
Babesiosis is typically treated with a combination of anti-malarial drugs and antibiotics. Treatment generally ranges anywhere from nine months to two years, in some cases longer.
Lyme Herx: The Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction
It can take months to receive a proper diagnosis for Lyme disease and get on to a round of antibiotics to fight the bacteria. Then, when treatment is finally underway, something particularly cruel and ironic can occur: the dreaded Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction, or Lyme Herx.
Discovered by Austrian dermatologist Adolf Jarisch and German dermatologist Karl Herxheimer, the Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction occurs within the body as the bacterial spirochetes die off. As these microbes begin to die and fragment and the body starts to detox, the body can enter a state where inflammation occurs and symptoms are exacerbated.
Herx can vary in intensity. It depends on the level of infection and the type of treatment, among other factors. But it’s something to be aware of before beginning antibiotic or other treatment for Lyme disease.
Here’s what people dealing with Lyme Herx might experience: flu-like symptoms, headache, joint and muscle pain, body aches, sore throat, general malaise, sweating, chills, fever, nausea, double vision, confusion, hives or other symptoms. All of these are normal reactions when starting treatment for Lyme disease. These symptoms can begin to occur within a few hours of antibiotic use.
Herx can last a few hours to several days. Usually at the beginning of treatment, you will experience more intense herxing. They get better with time. Herx usually occurs every three to four weeks. Also, changing to a new medication can intensify herx.
In layman’s terms, during Lyme Herx, the disease can seem like it’s getting worse before it gets better. The important thing to note is that these worsening symptoms don’t indicate treatment failure. In fact, usually just the opposite is true. Herx is a good sign; it means the treatment is working.
That said, Buhner points out something equally important in his book, writing, “Many people with Lyme believe that their treatment protocols are not working if they do not ‘herx.’ This is inaccurate. Having these reactions is not fun; count your blessings if you do not have them and don’t worry about it.”
A small percentage of people do not experience Herx. But that doesn’t mean the treatment is not working. They just might be lucky.
As with treatment for Lyme disease, one of the keys for dealing with Lyme Herx is reducing inflammation.
An anti-inflammatory diet is a must.
The bottom line
Jarisch-Herxheimer reactions aren’t much fun for those that experience them. And with proper treatment, they will subside.
Psychiatric Lyme disease
Lyme disease doesn’t just bring physical pain and discomfort. It can also exacerbate and even cause a wide range of psychiatric and related conditions. This is particularly common in late-stage Lyme disease.
Here are some psychiatric conditions to watch out for with Lyme disease.
Lyme disease can be an unfortunately strong predictor of mental illness. In a 2002 study, approximately one-third of psychiatric inpatients had evidence of prior infection by Borrelia burgdorferi, the most common spirochete associated with Lyme disease.
Unsurprisingly, Lyme disease is associated with numerous psychiatric ailments, including but not limited to:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Panic attacks
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Bipolar Disorder
- Autism-like syndrome
- Gullain-Barre-like syndrome
- Multiple Sclerosis-like syndrome
These conditions can be more pronounced in late-stage Lyme disease, with as many as 40 percent of this stage of Lyme patients experiencing nervous system disorders.
That said, it can be smart for anyone presenting Lyme symptoms to consider seeing a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist, as well as a Lyme-literate doctor. A disorder might be coming for someone in the early stages of Lyme disease. It can also be smart to see someone about the emotional and psychological toll that Lyme disease can take on a person.
Common cognitive difficulties
Aside from diagnosable disorders, people with late-stage Lyme disease are also likely to experience a range of cognitive problems.
They might experience auditory and visual processing slowness and disorders. They could have short-term and working memory problems. Accordingly, they could have trouble finding things and become lost easily, experiencing confusion and an overall decline in intellectual performance.
A person with Lyme disease isn’t stupid by any means. They just might feel that way at times because of the disease.
Children and adolescents
As with adults, children with Lyme disease are also at risk of suffering psychiatric side effects. Irritability, mood swings and anxiety-related issues can be common for pediatric Lyme disease sufferers, particularly among older children. Symptoms in adolescents can be exacerbated due to substance abuse.
Sadly, Lyme disease in children can also appear to be other things. It is sometimes misdiagnosed as attention deficit disorder. A child with undiagnosed Lyme disease can also appear to be on the autism spectrum.
As with general treatment for mental illness, a combination of therapy and medication can be useful for dealing with psychiatric ailments brought on by Lyme disease. Suitable medications include antibiotics, which the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society found can reduce psychiatric side effects associated with Lyme disease. Most Lyme patients will respond to antibiotics, though the appropriate ones and duration of treatment varies from patient to patient.
Tests can also be helpful combating the psychiatric elements of Lyme disease. These include Western blot serologic studies, neuropsychological testing, single photo emission computerized tomoraphy (SPECT) and brain MRI scans. For children, brain SPECT scans can help differentiate psychiatric disorders from secondary neuropsychiatric effects of Lyme disease.
Lyme disease can help cause an assortment of psychiatric issues. It’s important for anyone dealing with Lyme disease to be proactive.