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.¹ 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:
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.
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.³,⁴ 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.⁵
Within a week or two (sometimes up to a month or so) after the bite, initial symptoms of Lyme disease may include:
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 include:
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:
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 the successful treatment of Lyme disease starts with an accurate diagnosis.
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:⁷
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.
When it comes to the disease it’s not only important that you find a doctor with experience in treating this condition, but that you also find a doctor you trust that 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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