Lyme disease is one of the most common diseases in the U.S. that you get from being bitten (vector borne). It is a very serious epidemic and spread via the bite of a deer tick. Lyme disease is actually a group of bacteria and you may be infected by one or have many co-infections. It received its name from the town in Connecticut where many cases were found in 1977.
The disease has been found all over the world, but reported in only 49 states in the U.S. It is most often found in the heavily wooded areas including; the Northeast, North Central and the Pacific Coast. A small amount of cases are found in other areas due to migrating animals and people. It is most prevalent in the spring and summer months and less common in fall and winter.
Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed as other illnesses due to the wide range of symptoms it causes. Testing is not always positive and the disease can be mistaken for; Multiple Sclerosis, Seizures, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Hypochondria, and Arthritis. This article contains helpful information to help you understand what Lyme disease is, how it is diagnosed, the treatment, and prevention tips.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks that are infected with, Borrelia burgdorferi. Not all ticks have the bacteria, but the chances are pretty high in areas that have a large deer population. The disease affects many of the body systems and tissues with a wide variety of symptoms.
The disease ranges from mild to severe, affects adults, children, and even animals. You can have symptoms with a negative test or no symptoms and a positive test. It can go for years undiagnosed and be crippling for some. The only positive sign of Lyme disease is a characteristic “bullseye rash,” and clinical symptoms.
The bacteria that causes Lyme is a Spirochete type of bacteria, similar to the bacteria that causes Syphilis although the two are unrelated. Spirochetes are very hard to eradicate if they are not treated early on and can hide in the body undetected. They can also come back if not treated for long enough periods.
The spirochete is very tiny and spiral shaped. They can swim very quickly through the bloodstream and has a three layer cell wall with a coating of proteins. This coating keeps the bacteria out of the detection of your immune system so it cannot fight it off. The other behavior of spirochetes is that they can form spores that become dormant in the body for years at a time. Symptoms can disappear and then a trigger may cause them to wake back up and relapse the infection in the body.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The onset of symptoms for Lyme disease usually occur within 3 to 30 days after the bite. Early symptoms include; fatigue, fever, headache, body aches, joint pain, and sometimes a round rash that looks like a “bullseye” at the site of the bite. This rash only occurs in 30 to 80 percent of people with Lyme. Late symptoms of Lyme include a wide range of full body symptoms and are explained in the table below:
Brain Swelling (Encephalitis)
Cognitive Dysfunction (Trouble thinking)
Here is the tricky part about Lyme disease. Diagnosis can be hard if you have been bitten by a tick and do not have symptoms right away or the characteristic “bullseye rash.” Not everyone gets the “bullseye rash” or it can disappear quickly. Lab tests for Lyme have a high rate of “false negative” results.
The most recommended way to diagnose Lyme is by clinical symptoms and/or the appearance of the bullseye rash and history of a known tick bite. If you suspect a tick bite, here are the steps to take:
See a Doctor Right Away. If you think you have been bitten by a tick and see any rashes on your body, see your doctor right away.
If you Start Having Symptoms, Keep a Journal. Keep track of your symptoms and if your doctor starts you on treatment, write down the dates and dosages of the medications.
Ask for Testing. Testing may take a few weeks to be positive. The tests include; ELISA and Western Blot testing. These check for antibodies to the Lyme bacteria so they need time to build up.
Be Persistent. If you have symptoms of Lyme and your tests come back negative, get a second opinion preferably from a doctor that works with Lyme patients. Educate yourself about Lyme and Chronic Lyme to avoid misdiagnosis with something else and receive prompt treatment. Lyme disease has commonly been misdiagnosed as:
Lou Gehrig’s Disease
There is a few ways to treat Lyme disease depending on the doctor and school of thought. The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) believes that Lyme disease is “hard to catch and easy to cure” as long as the patient takes a short course of antibiotics early in the disease. This school of thought believes the spirochete is eradicated with antibiotics and does not persist beyond treatment.
The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) school of thought believes that Lyme disease is hard to diagnose and eradicate. They believe treatment needs to be initiated based on symptoms and patient response. In the early stages of Lyme, these doctors believe Lyme needs high doses of antibiotics for a long period of time. They also treat any tick bite prophylactically if the person lives in a “high-risk” area. In the later stages, they may choose to continue antibiotic treatment until all symptoms subside and this could go on for years.
Antibiotics Used For Lyme Disease:
In the past, some doctors have tried combination therapy with clindamycin and azithromycin but these have not shown to be more effective that the three listed above. Antibiotics are generally given from 3 to 6 weeks in early Lyme disease and 6 months to a year in late stage Lyme.
Undertreated or untreated Lyme can cause the following complications:
Cognitive Dysfunction and Memory Loss
Q: Does every tick have Lyme Disease?
A: Only the blacklegged ticks or deer ticks carry the Lyme disease bacteria. In high-risk areas, around one in four to five ticks may have the bacteria. In low-risk areas, one in one hundred ticks carry the bacteria.
Q: Someone told me I should burn a tick to get it out, is this true?
A: No. Burning or suffocating a tick can actually make the situation worse. Use tweezers to pull the entire body and head out of your skin. Make sure you flush the area with water and wash your hands.
Q: If I don’t get the “bullseye rash” am I okay?
A: Not necessarily. Only 80 to 90 percent of people with Lyme disease get the bullseye rash. The rash is usually flat, warm, but not itchy. If you suspect a tick bite and have symptoms of; fever, headache, fatigue, or joint pain but no rash you still need to see a doctor right away.
Q: I was told the only way to find Lyme is a blood test, is this true?
A: Lyme diagnosis is based on clinical symptoms, appearance of a rash, a known tick bite, and/or positive antibodies on a blood test. Diagnosis can be made without a blood test if the first three point to Lyme. A blood test will not be positive until the antibodies have time to build up and even then may never be positive even if Lyme is present.
It is strongly recommended that you not treat Lyme disease with alternative medicine alone. Antibiotics are the only proven way to eradicate Lyme disease without severe complications. However, many alternative medicine treatments may compliment antibiotic therapy if your doctor gives the okay.
Alternative medicine is said to help stop and prevent long-term symptoms that may stem from Lyme disease, although controversial. See a doctor that knows about Lyme disease and that agrees to work with you on the best treatment plan for you. Always let your doctor know if you are already using herbal remedies. Some alternative medicine treatments for Lyme include:
Probiotics. If you are on antibiotics for Lyme, probiotics can help put the helpful bacteria back in your body that antibiotics kill off. This is especially helpful if you have a yeast co-infection or get yeast from taking the antibiotics. Make sure you use a probiotic that contains active cultures, at least 5 to 10 billion units daily.
Beta-Glucan. This helpful fiber may help boost your immune system to fight off Lyme. If you have an autoimmune disorder or use immunosuppressant medication, this supplement is not advised.
Garlic. Garlic is a natural antibacterial and may help ward off ticks. Use caution with garlic if you are on blood thinning medication because it is also a natural blood thinner.
Burdock Root. Naturopaths may suggest burdock root preparations to help Lyme disease. It can have powerful side-effects and must be monitored by a doctor who knows how to use it.
Cover your Skin. If you spend time outdoors, make sure to cover your skin as much as possible. Try not to brush against foliage when hiking and use trails if possible.
Tick Proof your Surroundings. Cut back any long brush, mow the grass and use an insecticide on your lawn. Spray the inside of your house where your pets sleep and treat them regularly for fleas and ticks.
Use DEET. Use a spray with at least 20 percent DEET, but use sparingly due to toxic effects. Only spray on exposed parts of your body. A safer alternative is insect sprays containing permethrin.
Check for Ticks. After spending time outdoors or hiking, check each other for any ticks that may have hitched a ride home with you. They like to hide so check behind the knees, the back area, under the arms and in your hair.
Remove Ticks Promptly. If you find a tick, use a pair of tweezers to firmly pull out the entire body and head. Make sure the head does not stay under the skin.
Stay Out from Under Trees. Ticks can congregate on the branches and leaves of trees. They can sense the oxygen and carbon dioxide from your breath and drop on you as you walk under them. This is a very common way for ticks to find their next meal.
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