Lyme disease, a relatively new discovery only identified about 50 years ago, is a condition caused by a spiral-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme is known to be transmitted to humans by infected deer ticks. Common symptoms include chronic fatigue, joint pain, weakness, brain fog, and rash.
The difficulty with diagnosing this disease is that the symptoms aren’t usually overt or initially problematic, so it can go relatively unnoticed for years. After some time the condition snowballs into something more serious requiring medical care. By the time a patient with Lyme disease is looking for answers, they usually have confusing and multi-system symptoms that can throw off even the most competent physicians.
Additionally, every patient’s Lyme progression looks a little different, which can add to the confusion. They can skip phases, have remission periods, and even remain fairly asymptomatic for a long time.
Furthermore, lab tests for Lyme disease are notoriously poor and far from conclusive. It is not uncommon for a patient with the illness to have a false negative test result.
Once diagnosed, the traditional treatment for Lyme disease is a short course of antibiotics followed by testing for the eradication of the disease. Unfortunately, if the patient’s lab work comes back clean, they are declared “cured.” Often these patients feel far from healed and continue to have persistent symptoms despite negative lab results. It is not uncommon for some of these patients to be told their symptoms are psychosomatic – or in their head.
As you can imagine, this is quite discouraging and most likely contributes to the alarmingly high rate of suicide in Lyme disease patients.
On top of this, nearly half of all the disease patients also have other tick borne coinfections, and some estimates are as high as 80 percent. This is part of the reason treatment of Lyme disease is a more complicated situation than meets the eye.
When it comes to Lyme disease the truth of the matter is:
- There’s a good chance if you have this disease, you also have a coinfection.
- If you have a coinfection, treating just the disease isn’t sufficient.
- Lyme disease prevalence is on the rise and spreading.
- Lab work for isn’t conclusive and should be reviewed with a doctor familiar with the inherent complexity of Lyme disease.
- The two major authorities on Lyme disease protocols have conflicting diagnostics and treatment advice, which adds to the confusion – the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) and Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA).
- There is still a lot to learn about Lyme disease and its coinfections – both in diagnosis and treatment.
As you can see, there are numerous areas along the path to Lyme disease recovery where successful diagnosis and treatment can run off the rails.
Lyme Disease is On The Rise – Know the Symptoms
While approximately only 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) each year, the number is believed to be seriously underreported and likely exceeds 300,000 annually. Also, according to the CDC, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne illness in the United States and in 2015 was the sixth on the most commonly reported notifiable infectious diseases and conditions list.
Within a week or two (sometimes up to a month or so) after the bite, initial symptoms of Lyme disease may include:
- The hallmark bull’s eye rash (which occurs less than 50% of the time)
- Muscle and joint pain
- Flu-like symptoms
- Swollen lymph nodes
If Lyme disease isn’t caught at the time of exposure, the following symptoms can take several months to progress. Second phase symptoms of Lyme disease often includes:
- Significant arthritis
- Extreme fatigue
- Rashes (can occur anywhere)
- Short-term memory loss
- Brain fog
- Recurrent headaches
- Localized numbness
- Bell’s palsy (facial paralysis)
The latent stage of Lyme disease can cause serious and life threatening symptoms. Later stages of Lyme disease can take years to develop and include:
- Severe arthritis
- Heart palpitations (heart rhythm irregularities)
- Mood swings
- Memory loss
- Debilitating fatigue
- Loss of muscle control or other neurologic conditions
- Joint swelling
Generally, the longer Lyme disease and its coinfections go untreated, the worse the symptoms become and the more difficult they are to treat.
However, this by no means implies Lyme disease is a life sentence, full recoveries are made regularly. But successful treatment of Lyme disease starts with an accurate diagnosis.
Understanding the Difference in Lyme Disease Coinfections
If you think you have Lyme disease or have already been diagnosed, you should absolutely also be tested (when possible) for coinfections. Understanding the difference in coinfections can give you a lot of insight into your condition and potentially help your diagnosis and treatment. Common coinfections and their corresponding and distinctive symptoms are as follows:
- Babesia – Night sweats, air hunger, fever, hemolytic anemia, and fatigue.
- Bartonella – Symptoms that wax and wane, red rash (stretch mark-like), fever, neurological symptoms, and bone pain – especially shin and heel pain.
- Ehrlichia – Rash, fever, headaches, muscle and joint pain.
- Mycoplasma – Upper respiratory infection symptoms, headaches, and sore throats.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – Splotchy, spreading rash that often begins on soles of feet and hands, high fever, severe headaches, brain fog, and possible organ failure.
- Anaplasma – Fevers, rashes, headaches, and brain fog.
- Colorado Tick Fever – Recurring fevers.
- Tick-borne Relapsing Fever – Recurring fevers and rashes, muscle and joint pain.
- Q Fever – High fever, sweats, and chills.
- Powassan Viral Encephalitis – Severe neurological symptoms and fever.
- Tick Paralysis – Facial, tongue, and body paralysis, fatigue, and convulsions.
- Tularemia – Ulcers and swollen lymph nodes.
An excellent resource from the CDC on coinfections can be found here.
It is not uncommon for people with Lyme disease or a coinfection to have impaired immune system function. This allows for other infections, such as Epstein Barr virus (EBV), to become reactivated and contribute to the patient’s health concerns.
Finding a Doctor Who Specializes in Lyme Disease
When it comes to the disease it’s not only important you find a doctor with experience in treating this condition, but that you also find a doctor you trust and offers innovative solutions because finding treatments for the disease and its coinfections can be a challenging and sometimes a long process.
The good news is treatments are getting better every day and this is especially true when coinfections are properly identified and dealt with. If you’ve been struggling with debilitating fatigue or chronic illness, it’s a good idea to get checked for the disease and its coinfections.
Don’t give up on finding answers – Lyme disease could be the cause of your health troubles, in which case a proper diagnosis is a step in the right direction.
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