THE BASICS OF LYME DISEASE
WHAT IS LYME DISEASE?
Left untreated, Lyme may cause long-term, persistent illness that affects almost every organ system of the body.
Lyme disease can infect and affect any system in the body. As soon as one system is disrupted, such as the nervous system, it affects most every other area of the body.
The infection will trigger abnormal physical and cognitive symptoms. Lyme disease symptoms look like other diseases and disorders and patients are very often misdiagnosed.
HOW DO YOU GET LYME DISEASE?
Lyme is most commonly contracted through the bite of an infected tick. A single tick bite can infect its host with the the Bb spirochete bacteria, as well as with other tick borne infections, known as co-infections.
Some researchers believe that other ticks and some biting insects such as mosquitos, fleas, biting flies and lice may also transit Lyme Disease.
Lyme spirochetes have been found in many bodily fluids and research about all of the ways in which it can be spread is not clear, but blood transfusions or breast milk may spread Lyme Disease.
IS LYME DISEASE COMMON?
HOW LONG DOES LYME DISEASE LAST?
Even with antibiotic treatment, it may take an individual months or even years to fully recover.
The length of treatment will vary. In part, this is due to the Lyme bacteria's ability to go into connective tissue where antibiotics are ineffective and in part, it is due to the fact that often times an individual afflicted with Lyme will have numerous co-infections that need separate treatment but are hard to distinguish from Lyme.
When Lyme disease persists despite an initial 30 day round of antibiotic treatment, it is called "Chronic Lyme Disease".
WHAT ARE THE STAGES OF LYME DISEASE?
There are three main stages of Lyme disease: early, late and chronic.
Early stage Lyme disease occurs days to weeks after an individual has been infected. They may experience flu-like symptoms, have a bulls-eye rash or may experience no symptoms at all. Typically, if an individual receives antibiotics during this time, their recovery will be short.
Late Stage Lyme Disease occurs when a person has not promptly or effectively treated and the Lyme bacteria begins to do damage to the joints, nerves, and brain. This damage occur over the course of many months or years after becoming infected. It is often the most serious stage of the disease.
Chronic Lyme Disease, or Post-treatment Lyme disease, occurs when patients have been treated with the recommended 2-4 week course of antibiotics but show no improvement, little improvement, or improve but become ill again.
Chronic Lyme Disease is highly controversial, as is its treatment. The CDC claims that further antibiotics are not helpful, but there is a split in the medical community about whether long-term antibiotics are necessary.
WOULD I KNOW IF I HAD LYME DISEASE?
If you were bit by a tick and then later developed a "Bulls-Eye Rash" at the site of a bite, you likely have Lyme.
The classic Lyme rash has concentric areas of lighter and darker colors and expands with time, but the rash is not always in a target bull's eye form.
The Bulls-Eye Rash varies considerably from person to person. For example, a Bulls-Eye Rash:
May not always have the characteristic clearing in the middle
May range from a fraction of an inch to many inches in diameter
May be colored anywhere from a mild red to a deep purple
May resemble a bruise in darker-skinned people
May appear in a few days, several weeks or a year after the bite
May spread to other areas of the body or there may be additional rashes far from the primary one because a single bite can cause a rash to occur on several areas of the body and can take on the appearance of eczema, hives, poison ivy rash, sun burn or have the appearance of ringworm
May or may not itch or feel hot
May come and go over the course of several weeks
May have raised areas or bumps in the rash
WHAT IF I NEVER HAD A BULLS-EYE RASH?
Almost 50% of people infected with Lyme never exhibit the typical Bulls-Eye Rash.
When no Bulls-Eye Rash is present, diagnosing Lyme involves assessing symptoms other than the presence of a Bulls-Eye Rash. But, because Lyme symptoms are very similar to those of many common infections, and mimic symptoms of over three hundred other diseases it is often necessary to perform testing in order to rule out other conditions and/or testing specifically for Lyme and other co-infections.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS IF LYME IS NOT TREATED?
Left untreated Lyme Disease can result in neurological disorders, crippling arthritis, muscular system damage, damaged organs, blindness, deafness, psychiatric, or psychological disorders.
Lyme disease is progressive, destructive, and debilitating, and in severe untreated cases, it can be fatal. Fatality with Lyme is rare and is usually only seen in people that have been misdiagnosed, have systems impaired, or have taken no means of eradication.
HOW DOES LYME AFFECT THE BRAIN?
If not properly diagnosed and treated, the Lyme bacteria can invade the brain and spinal cord within weeks.
But as with syphilis, months or years may pass before the late signs of a neurological infection appear. Once inside the central nervous system, the organism can wreak all kinds of havoc.
Memory problems are the most common sign of a brain infection. But other symptoms include: memory problems, moodiness, depression, hallucinations, panic attacks, paranoia, manic depression, seizures and even dementia.
When the organism invades spinal nerves, patients may develop numbness and tingling in fingers and toes and pain radiating to the front of the body. In some cases, the spirochete may mount an attack on the protective sheath of nerves, resulting in spastic muscle weakness in the extremities that resembles multiple sclerosis.
CAN LYME CAUSE PERSONALITY CHANGES?
As Lyme disease progresses, it can cause personality changes.
It will attack the nervous system, producing learning disabilities, cognitive and memory issues, mood swings, anxiety and depression, panic attacks, obsessive behavior, sudden rages and other psychiatric diagnoses.
WHAT IS THE CONTROVERSY ABOUT LYME?
The controversy over Lyme within the medical community centers around two issues:
The criteria for diagnosing Lyme disease, and
Whether Lyme persists after a 30 day course of antibiotic treatment.
There are currently two divergent standards of care for the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme: the IDSA guidelines and the ILADS guidelines.
ILADS - The ILADS guidelines stress the importance of a doctor's clinical judgment in making the diagnosis, because the scientific literature has found that the existing testing is often unreliable.
ISDA - In contrast, the IDSA guidelines narrowly restricts the diagnosis to include only the CDC criteria.