What is Lyme Disease?

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What is Lyme Disease

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What is Lyme Disease?

In this blog, you will learn:

  • What the signs and symptoms of Lyme Disease are
  • How Lyme Disease is diagnosed
  • Why it is important to get a correct diagnosis so that treatment can be targeted and effective

Do your clients suffer from fatigue, headaches or muscle or joint pain? Do they have Lyme Disease and do you know how to treat it? Then this blog on Lyme Disease is for you. Please read on for the details! 

Do you get stuck clinically with symptoms of Lyme with your patients?  Would you like to have a larger impact on improving pain or fatigue issues? The key to the treatment of many diseases may just be an individual approach using nutrition, lifestyle and exercise. 

If you want to improve your patient’s quality of life, you need a customized approach to address each patient’s root causes. Our functional medicine course will teach you how to do this. Look into our functional medicine school (mindbodyfunctionalmedicine.com): we will educate you to have a greater impact on improving your client’s lives.

** Please note: If you want the short summary version of this article, then please click here **

What is Lyme Disease (LD)? 

Lyme Disease is not completely understood in the medical world. In the worse-case scenarios, it can seriously affect a person’s quality of life. It is a complex disease with both acute and potentially chronic symptoms. It is an inflammatory disease. It typically, but not always, starts with a rash, headache, fever, and chills, and can later develop into more serious symptoms such as possible arthritis, neurological or cardiac issues.\Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection, caused by Borrelia burgdorferi. Borrelia is a bacterium that is transmitted by an infected black-legged tick. It is most commonly spread by a tick bite. The disease is named after Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first identified in 1975 in the US.

Different strains of Borrelia exist. The symptoms of Lyme disease (and possible co-infections) can vary between different regions due to these different strains (Hout, 2018).  

Lyme is far more common now than it was 30 years ago. In addition, the geographic area in North America for contracting Lyme has greatly increased as well (Radolf JD, 2021). It has historically been associated with natural and forested areas but has now been found even in New York City and Chicago (Radolf JD, 2021)! Lyme is spread throughout the world in part via a songbird. This songbird will carry the larvae of infected ticks and as it travels, it defecates the larvae (GROSS!) around the world, dropping these infected ticks wherever it flies.

There are over 300,000 estimated new cases of Lyme each year (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2021). Because the testing commonly used has been shown to have up to 66% false negative rate, we strongly suspect that this number is actually much higher.

Short-term symptoms include:

  • Fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle/ joint aches. Swollen lymph nodes may also occur, especially if there is no rash. Some studies have shown that only 25% of individuals have the classic bullseye rash.
  • Additional symptoms may occur days or months after a tick bite (CDC, 2021):
  • Severe headaches and neck stiffness
  • More bull’s-eye rashes on other parts of the body
  • Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face)
  • 60% chance of developing Lyme arthritis (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2021) with severe joint pain/ swelling, particularly in the knees and other large joints.
  • Pain in tendons, muscles, joints, bones
  • Heart palpitations or irregular heart beat
  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Inflammation in the brain and spinal cord
  • Nerve pain, shooting pains, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Cognitive issues

If left untreated, the infecting pathogen can spread to various organs and tissues, and can severely affect the nervous system, joints, heart and skin (Hout, 2018). People may develop neurological symptoms and heart problems. The signs and symptoms of late-stage Lyme Disease may not be evident for weeks, months or even years.  

Often, people will only have flu-like symptoms when they get infected with Lyme Disease. Unfortunately, when people have Borrelia, the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease, symptoms will not disappear when the flu-like symptoms disappear. Instead, this stealth microorganism can burrow deep into tissues. When we get stressed, encounter other infections or toxins later in our lives or have other health struggles, often the dormant Lyme can re-emerge and cause symptoms of all kinds.

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What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme Disease is the great mimicker. It can look like literally dozens of other illnesses. Common long term Lyme Disease symptoms include pain of any type, chronic fatigue, hormonal imbalance, cognitive problems and so many more conditions.

At Medicine with Heart, we specialize in treating and resolving Lyme Disease. We have written extensively on Lyme Disease. You can read more here in our ‘Lyme & Mold Guide’ (https://medicinewithheart.com/lyme-mold-guide/) and here in our recently published book (https://medicinewithheart.com/use-your-mind-to-heal-your-mold-and-lyme//)

What is Lyme Disease?: Diagnosing Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease can be tricky to diagnose. Symptoms can look like other health problems. The ticks that spread it can pass other diseases at the same time.

A Lyme diagnosis is made based on symptoms. We look at the physical signs like the bulls-eye rash, although not everybody gets a rash after a tick bite. Other symptoms are assessed. Blood tests are taken. The Western blot test is the most accurate test to diagnose LD. But not all labs are standardized so it is possible to get a positive result from one lab and a negative result from another. We can expertly analyze a Western blot to get the correct diagnosis from it.

Lyme Disease is called ‘The Great Imitator’ because it mimics so many other health conditions. If you think you have been exposed to ticks and your symptoms and labs indicate Lyme, then it can sometimes be a good idea to treat presumptively. This can be true even if the diagnosis is not 100% indicative of Lyme.

What is Lyme Disease?: Treating Lyme Disease

Lyme can be difficult to treat. The CDC estimates that 10- 0% of patients who are properly treated for Lyme may remain symptomatic after treatment for a variable and unspecified length of time (Hout, 2018). Those of us that study Lyme Disease and are up to date with the current research often estimate that this number may be higher based upon what we see in our clinical practice.

Although Lyme Disease is rarely acutely life-threatening, delayed treatment can result in more severe disease. If you have chronic symptoms of unknown origin, we recommend getting tested with a Lyme Literate Clinic. Not all clinics know how to properly order and interpret the correct, most-up-to-date tests, so working with a clinic that does is essential. We are Lyme Literate at our clinic and work with people all around the world (medicinewithheart.com).

We often see chronic Lyme Disease being treated with triple antibiotic therapy. While this treatment is the right course of action for some individuals, for many this can cause Lyme to go temporarily dormant only to re-emerge and cause much more complicated symptoms later. If you are a clinician interested in learning how to properly treat Lyme Disease, we train on how to do this in our clinician training programs which can be viewed at: mindbodyfunctionalmedicine.com.

Lyme Disease that goes misdiagnosed or untreated is more problematic. It can develop into a debilitating syndrome.

In our clinic, we have expertise in treating a range of complicated, difficult-to-diagnose conditions like Lyme Disease. We look for the root causes in our patients to identify what could be causing the symptoms. We regularly treat and resolve Lyme, chronic infections and other complex conditions in patients in our Functional Medicine clinic.

What is Lyme Disease?: Complications of Lyme Disease

If not treated correctly and early on, Lyme symptoms can persist. Patients with different variations of late-stage Lyme Disease include (Radolf JD, 2021):

  • People with untreated late-stage infection (late neuroborreliosis)
  • Patients with subjective symptoms that persist after treatment. This is often called post-treatment Lyme Disease syndrome or PTLDS. In PTLDS, patients have non-specific symptoms such as fatigue and widespread musculoskeletal pain, after treatment for Lyme Disease with an accepted treatment regimen. The symptoms can present within 6 months or even many years later.  
  • Patients with unexplained subjective complaints, often called Chronic Lyme disease or CLD. CLD can describe a range of atypical symptoms such as fatigue and chronic pain which occur due to a lengthy Burgdorferi infection.

CLD and PSLD share similar clinical symptoms of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It is not uncommon for patients with CLD/PSLD to receive a misdiagnosis of Fibromyalgia and/or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

In these chronic cases, it is unclear what physiological mechanisms (or multiple mechanisms) are responsible for Lyme Disease. The possibilities include: other untreated infections; a post-infectious state; permanent or temporary tissue damage; secondary conditions triggered by the initial infection; persisting infection despite bacterial eradication; immune dysfunction due to auto-antibodies, unregulated inflammation and/or a persistent B. burgdorferi infection (Radolf JD, 2021).

Trials have been conducted on the treatment of chronic Lyme Disease. Some clinical trials indicate that re-treatment improved some patients’ issues, such as fatigue and pain. Others have shown improvement in cognitive function. Antibiotic treatment is effective in about 90% of patients with Lyme arthritis (Hout, 2018)

Lastly, a great concern is when LD goes misdiagnosed or untreated. In these cases, LD can, years later, be diagnosed as chronic inflammatory age-related degeneration (for example arthritis, dementia or stroke). This is partially due to the increased complications of aging for those with persistent and untreated Lyme Disease (Radolf JD, 2021).  

Some neurological diseases can even be partially caused by Lyme Disease. We have written extensively about this and you can find the links to blogs here, including Lyme and Alzheimer’s, Lyme and Parkinson’s, Lyme and ALS and Lyme and MS.

** Please stay tuned for our next Blog!  **

 

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Dr. Miles Nichols and Dr. Diane Mueller have spoken for the following organizations:

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