Lyme disease is a vector-borne bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi that is primarily transmitted via ticks. Though Lyme used to be considered primarily an East coast illness, with changing climate and potentially new vectors, it is becoming much more common throughout the United States as well as in many other countries all over the world.
Who Can Get Lyme Disease?
Most people who are diagnosed with Lyme disease have been bit by a nymphal, or immature, form of a tick. The problem with this is that the nymphal form is roughly the size of the head of a pin and therefore very difficult to see. Many people don’t even realize that they have been bitten. It is thought that Lyme may also be spread from other vectors including mosquitos and spiders.
Lyme disease can also cross the placenta, so women who have Lyme disease who become pregnant may spread it to their children.
Lyme disease is becoming much more common. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention estimates approximately 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease in the United States each year. This makes it more common than hepatitis C, AIDS/HIV, colon cancer and breast cancer. However, numbers are likely to be much higher than this due to difficulties with the accuracy of lab tests available for diagnosis and Lyme commonly being misdiagnosed as many other conditions.
Lyme disease is considered to be the “great imitator” of diseases. This is because the spirochete that causes Lyme can affect any organ system in the body, causing a wide array of symptoms. Because of this, many people who have Lyme disease are diagnosed with other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel disease, psychiatric illnesses, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety, ADD/ADHD, autism, etc.
Common symptoms of Lyme include:
Mood swings, irritability, depression
Light and sound sensitivity
Increased motion sickness, dizziness, vertigo
Tingling, numbness, burning sensations
Facial paralysis—Bell’s palsy
Unexplained weight loss or gain
Exaggerated symptoms or worse hangover after drinking alcohol
The problem with ticks is that they often carry many more pathogens than Lyme disease alone. Most people who are diagnosed with Lyme disease also have other co-infections on board. This is one of the reasons why Lyme disease can be so difficult to treat. Lyme disease and most of the other co-infections are great at evading the immune system, making it difficult to treat and difficult to find on lab tests. Some of the coinfections that are commonly tested in patients with Lyme include:
Ehrlichia and Anaplasma
Viruses like Epstein-Barr Virus, HHV6, and cytomegalovirus
Mast cell activation syndrome
As stated above, testing becomes difficult, as Lyme is very good at evading the immune system. Currently a two-tiered testing system is recommended which includes an ELISA to screen for Lyme and confirmation of the disease by a Western Blot. Unfortunately, this screening test is highly insensitive and studies show that it misses roughly 54% of patients who have Lyme disease.
Other testing that is available are PCR tests which look for the DNA from the bacteria rather than antibodies to the bacteria. Antigen detection tests are also available, which looks for protein that is unique to the Lyme bacteria in bodily fluids. Many people who are negative in the other tests, will be positive on this test.
Treatment is individualized to the patient based on symptom severity, response to past and present treatment, and presence of co-infections and other barriers to health. One thing we have learned about Lyme disease is that antibiotics usually will not “cure” it alone. Antibiotics are much more successful in cases of acute Lyme disease and should be administered prophylactically if a tick bite is suspected. For chronic Lyme disease treatment, we utilize IV therapy, antimicrobial herbs, and immune boosting supplements along with antibiotics in order to help the immune system become strong enough to continue to fight the bacteria on its own. In addition, finding co-infections, heavy metal and other environmental exposures, mold exposure, hormonal imbalances, and genetic mutations are also very important factors to getting back to health. Diet and lifestyle may also have to be modified in order to ensure that the body is functioning optimally.
Make an appointment with a Lyme Literate Naturopathic Medical Doctor today!