Lyme disease is an infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a type of bacterium called a spirochete (pronounced spy-ro-keet) that is carried by deer ticks. An infected tick transmits the spirochete to the humans and animals it bites. Untreated, the bacterium travels through the bloodstream, establishes itself in various body tissues, and can cause a number of symptoms, many of which are severe. Lyme Disease manifests itself as a multisystem inflammatory disease that affects the skin in its early, localized stage, and spreads to the joints, nervous system and other organ systems in its later, disseminated stages.
The Lyme spirochete has the shape of a corkscrew and moves quickly through the bloodstream at the time of transmission, living in the matrix tissue and other soft tissue, making it hard to diagnose with blood work. It may not be captured in the blood sample at the time of testing. It also seems to be drawn to areas of scar tissue, the brain, jaw, and joints where other opportunistic infections also hide.
Another common nesting place for Lyme and other infections is within parasites. Parasites require a host to live and they feed off the host body. Parasites also become an incubator for Lyme as well as viruses, bacteria and heavy metals.
Ticks can harbor multiple infectious organisms, which can be transmitted through the same tick bite. While Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne illness in the country, other diseases are increasingly being reported.
Co-infections can be challenging to diagnose, as clinical features often overlap with many of the other tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease. However, the importance of identifying and treating polymicrobial infections is critical in getting a patient well.
Practitioners should consider co-infections in the diagnosis when a patient’s symptoms are severe, persistent, and resistant to antibiotic therapy. Physicians have found that co-infections typically exacerbate Lyme disease symptoms.
Testing and Treatment for Lyme Disease is convoluted at best. Unreliable testing has less than a 50% chance of accuracy making diagnoses by CDC standards often difficult, to impossible. Co-infection tests are also lacking in definitive answers and some don’t even have tests currently available.
The fluctuating symptoms and signs involved with Lyme disease are highly vague, and often found in a host of other conditions – making diagnosis particularly difficult. If you don’t have the characteristic rash for Lyme disease, as most people may not, then it is up to your doctor to ask appropriate questions, and perform a physical exam in order to determine the diagnosis and treatment protocols.
Lyme Disease treatment, when diagnosed in the very early stages, is often successful with a course of antibiotics, however, more than 40% of Lyme patients go on to have what is called chronic, or persistent, Lyme Disease. At this stage, treatment options become highly variable. The disease affects each person differently requiring individualized treatment protocols but there is currently no one specific cure. Hundreds of thousands of people each year are being left to define their own ideas of treatment, search for doctors who can help, and live for years and decades looking for answers on how to be helped and treated.
There is no shortage of controversy surrounding Lyme Disease. Everything from testing, treatment, symptoms, whether chronic Lyme Disease even exists, to the division of physicians treating Lyme patients, the politics, the dissemination of information, the validity of peer-reviewed studies, and the supposed standards in place by the CDC, IDSA, and Insurance companies have created a frustrating, confusing and convoluted world for patients to try and navigate.
Currently, just about every topic surrounding Lyme Disease is up for debate making this one of the most controversial diseases since HIV came on the scene decades ago.
According to the CDC, a recently released estimate based on insurance records suggests that each year approximately 476,000 Americans are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease.
Symptoms of People Diagnosed with Lyme Disease (this is not an exhaustive list but some of the most common):
- Severe headaches and neck stiffness
- Erythema migrans (EM) rashes on the bite site or other areas of the body
- Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face)
- Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints
- Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
- Heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat- Lyme Carditis
- Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath
- Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
- Nerve pain, shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet
- Anxiety and restlessness. Attention deficit and hyperactivity.
- Difficulty with short-term memory, concentration, word-finding and mood swings
- Daytime episodes of inappropriate fatigue and lack of zest or interest in activities
- Difficulty sleeping, waking unrefreshed
- Body aches and joint pains muscle spasms
- Sinus problems, sore throat, light sensitivity, and “floaters”
- Strange neurological symptoms: inner vibration, sounds, tingling, and numbness
Lyme is known as the Great Imitator – Symptoms Can Mimic Other Conditions Such As:
- Schizoaffective Disorder
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
- Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Thyroid Disease-Hypothyroidism
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Lupus- Autoimmune Conditions
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Polymyalgia Rheumatica
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
- Bipolar Disorder
- Addison’s Disease