What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted primarily by Ixodes ticks, or deer ticks, and black-legged ticks. Over 300,000 patients are diagnosed annually with substantial indications that there are many more patients who have not been diagnosed — identifying and treating this infection is a growing challenge.
Although far less recognized, even the diagnosed cases of Lyme disease outnumber the cases of breast cancer and HIV/AIDS.
So, how do you recognize Lyme disease? That too can be a challenge.
While a bulls-eye rash is a classic indication of a tick bite, many patients do not show this symptom, and many don’t test positive for the disease with traditional lab tests. Patients often do not even know they have been bitten. Lyme disease is considered a “great imitator” because of the many symptoms that manifest from it and the wide range of co-infections it creates.
The disease affects people of all ages and in many walks of life. There is particularly high incidence throughout the U.S. Specific regions of the country, particularly the East, Midwest, the Southeast, and the West Coast are heavily impacted by the disease. The tick-born disease is caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete that can affect any organ in the body, including the nervous system, brain, muscles, joints, and the heart.
With such a pernicious disease, the more rapid the diagnosis, the better the outcome for patients. Misdiagnosis allows the infection to progress unchecked. Patients with Lyme are often misdiagnosed as experiencing chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid issues, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and psychiatric illnesses.
Initial infection results in acute Lyme. Acute Lyme disease symptoms include:
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Neck stiffness
- Muscle aches
- Low-grade fever
If Lyme disease isn’t treated early, spirochetes can spread to different parts of the body and conceal themselves. Weeks, months or years later, patients can develop severe problems.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) regards Lyme disease as treatable with just a short course of antibiotics. IDSA guidelines assert that spirochetal infection cannot stay in your body after a short course of antibiotics. The guidelines IDSA relies upon, however, are out of date.
Following more current guidelines, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) views Lyme disease as the cause of persistent infection in patients. ILADS recommends treating patients through individualized treatment protocols, with therapy based on co-infections, symptom severity, and the response of the patient to treatments. Protocols are as varied as the symptoms that can occur.
Late-stage or chronic Lyme symptoms can include:
- Chronic infection, fatigue and pain
- Chronic flu-like symptoms
- Headache, joint pain
- Neck stiffness and creaking
- Bell’s palsy
- Brain fog or loss of cognitive function
- Speech impairment
- Heightened sensitivity and agitation to noise and sound
- Severe depression, inability to concentrate, and other mental health disorders
- Sleep disorders or trouble sleeping
- Visual changes or blurry vision, “floaters” in eye, impaired vision
- Muscle twitching
- Tingling, tremors
- Chest pain, irregular heart beats
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath or difficulty catching breath
- Bladder issues
- Reproductive issues
- Gastrointestinal dysfunction
Other complications can also occur, from chronic staph and mold infections to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and systemic candida. With so many issues arising from Lyme, getting the correct diagnosis as soon as possible is the key to healing. Remember, because standard Lyme disease tests are so insensitive, just because you received a negative result doesn’t mean you don’t have Lyme. In fact, at least 20 to 30 percent of Lyme patients receive false negative results. So what’s the solution? Improved testing and disease specific questionnaires.
Traditional ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay testing) and Western Blot testing are both often unreliable. Other tests, such as IGeneX, are considerably more accurate.
Along with testing, finding a Lyme-literate caregiver is vital for your health.
Antibiotics, herbal and alternative medications are all treatment regimens you and your health care provider should consider. There are a variety of treatment approaches — and the most successful options vary with every patient. Multiple antibiotics, including antibiotics infused through an IV, are one approach. Others combine herbs, diet and other modifications to your lifestyle. Controlling inflammation and suppressing tick-borne bacteria is the ultimate key to restoring immune function. Utilizing both types of treatment consistently until all symptoms have resolved is vitally important. If you stop therapy too quickly, Lyme can continue to spread throughout the body.
One thing for you to remember about Lyme disease is that breaking the cycle of immune dysfunction is truly important to create healing. Herbal therapy, vitamin C IVs, ozone therapy and other treatments that restore balance and wellness support this. Because antibiotics can wipe out beneficial intestinal flora, it is also important to look at probiotics and herbal supplements as an option.
Overall, Lyme is a difficult disease to diagnose and treat. The best way to eradicate the disease is to have early and thorough testing, find a Lyme-educated medical provider, and utilize a range of therapies to eliminate Lyme and the co-infections the disease can cause.