What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a spirochetal bacterial infection which is transmitted predominantly by the bite of the Ixodes Scapularis tick, commonly referred to as the black-legged tick or deer tick.

The clinical symptoms of Lyme disease can vary from person to person at initial presentation and during the course of the infection. Symptoms ranging from a relatively benign skin rash to severe arthritic and neurological disabilities. Lyme disease occurs in stages with different clinical manifestations at each stage. Any organ system can be involved, but the bacteria commonly attack skin, joint, heart, and nerve tissue— including the brain.

Who gets Lyme Disease?

Anyone can get Lyme disease. People who frequent the woods and forest edges such as campers, hikers, outdoor workers and hunters are generally more likely to encounter ticks. However, Lyme disease has also become a suburban illness due to new home development encroaching on the woodland. Ticks feed on field mice, deer. small rodents and birds. Domestic animals such as dogs, cats and horses can also become host to the ticks. Although these animals are possible carriers of Lyme disease, it is not believed they can transmit the disease directly to humans. However, pets can carry ticks into our yards and homes, leaving us susceptible to being bitten. Birds, mice, and rodents passing through our yards can also deposit these unwelcome guests near our home.

What are the symptoms?

Lyme disease is thought to occur in three stages; however, they can overlap and not all patients go through all stages. About 63% of the patients may get the rash, (erythema migran). It usually starts at the bite site but may also appear anywhere on the body. The rash may grow in a circular pattern like a target over several hours to several days. Not all Lyme rashes are bulls-eye rashes and many people do not recall having had a rash.

In some cases fatigue, fever, chills, headache, stiff neck, muscle/joint aches or other flu-like symptoms are the first indication of illness. In the weeks, or months following a tick bite, the pain (or weakness) in the joints, muscles, tendons or bones may become migratory. Temporary heart involvement may cause palpitations or fainting. Severe itching, temperature fluctuations and vision problems may occur. A multitude of symptoms may come and go resulting in doctors treating only the symptoms and not recognize the overall systemic nature of Lyme disease.

In some untreated patients, the spirochete will remain inactive and never create any severe health problems. However, in other patients the untreated infection may result in the development of other health conditions associated with Lyme. Many individuals do not get the rash and Lyme disease may go undiagnosed.

Lyme disease infection that is undetected, untreated or inadequately treated can lead to a chronic state called late-stage Lyme disease. This stage includes debilitating arthritis, bouts of numbness in the limbs, Bell’s Palsy and neurological disorders. Symptoms may go into temporary remission and then reoccur or be replaced with new symptoms. The disease can mimic Lupus, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s. It can present many faces and persons diagnosed with these named illnesses should ask their doctor to confirm that Lyme disease is not the cause of their symptoms.

How is Lyme Disease diagnosed?

Lyme Disease is a clinical diagnosis. Perhaps the most serious problem facing Lyme victims is diagnosing the disease. Lyme disease mimics so many other illnesses and the pattern of symptoms varies from patient to patient. At present, there are tests available: the ELISA, Western Blot, Lyme Disease Urine Antigen and the PCR. These tests are to be used in conjunction with symptoms and patient history. Some people test negative but may still have Lyme disease. Education for you and your physician is a must.

How can Lyme Disease be treated?

People with a known tick bite or known EM rash should be given oral antibiotics early in the disease. They should not wait for symptoms which may not show up for some time. Your treatment of oral or IV antibiotics should be discussed with a Lyme literate physician. There are over 300 strains of Bb bacteria worldwide and unfortunately there is no test to tell us which antibiotic works for which strain. The Borreliosis bacteria is different from many others because it lives a very long time and has an extremely long generation time. It also may go into periods of latency. There isn’t a test to tell us the Lyme bacteria is completely eradicated. One of the best ways to help your physician is to keep a daily log so he/she may see which antibiotic may or may not be working. It is very important to be treated as soon as possible to prevent the disease from reproducing and becoming a multi-systemic illness.

Early Symptoms

Early in the disease process, patients may present with flu-like symptoms including headache, stiff neck, fever, muscle aches, fatigue and partial facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy). A skin rash called erythema migrans can develop at the site of the bite or appear elsewhere on the body and not necessarily where you were bitten. Not all people will develop a rash.

Late Stage Symptoms

Late symptoms may include:

  • “Lyme arthritis” with joint pain and swelling
  • Heart complications
  • Motor and peripheral neuropathies
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Memory problems
  • Migratory muscle
  • Tendon and bone pain

Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed because it can mimic other health conditions such as Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s (ALS), Alzheimer’s and autism. This is why it’s often called the “Great Imitator.”

The following symptoms of Lyme disease vary on severity of the infection and the amount of time before treatment. You may have some, many or even different symptoms:

  • Inflammation of the membranes lining eyelids
  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Loss of normal pupil reflexes in response to light
  • Inflammation of the optic nerve
  • Abnormal sensitivity to light
  • Double vision
  • Inflammation of the iris
  • Slowed heart rhythm caused by improper conduction of electrical signals in and to the heart
  • Inflammation of the heart muscle and/or the membrane surrounding the heart
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Enlarged heart
  • Fainting, dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain, may feel like a heart attack
  • Rapid heartbeat or skipped beats
  • A triple cadence in heart sounds caused by an abnormal third or fourth beat
  • Painful joints
  • Arthritis, inflamed joints
  • Inflammation of muscles, and/or tendons
  • Disease located in the muscles
  • A collection of fluid that has escaped the knee joint or a bursa and formed a new sac in an adjacent area
  • Paralysis of a facial nerve
  • Meningitis
  • Disease of spinal nerve root
  • Inflammation of the brain, multiple nerves, spinal cord and/or arteries in the brain
  • Disease of the peripheral nerves, and/or the nerve networks
  • Spasmodic movements of limbs and/or facial muscles
  • Loss of muscle coordination caused by disease in the cerebellum of the brain
  • Partial paralysis of muscles, and/or Bell’s Palsy
  • Seizures
  • Headache ranging from mild to severe
  • Stiff neck
  • Impairment of normal sensations
  • Abnormal sensations: itching, prickling, tingling
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Hearing loss or hypersensitivity to sounds
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Partial paralysis of one side
  • Paralysis of lower extremities
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Instability
  • Forgetfulness/memory loss
  • General deterioration
  • Psychosis
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever, fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Costochondritis
  • Disease of the lymph nodes
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Enlarged liver
  • Testicular swelling
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Rashes
  • Menstrual irregularity
  • Speech problems