Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness reported in the United States. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, annual cases reported in the nation more than doubled between 1991 and 2005. Are you concerned that you or someone you know may have contracted Lyme Disease? Do you want to know its symptoms, how to diagnose the disease, and recovery treatments? In the content below, we define both Lyme disease and Chronic Lyme disease, discussing how one contracts the disease, a variety of symptoms, and methods to overcome Chronic Lyme disease.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a chronic inflammatory condition caused when a bacteria called Borrelia burgdoferi is transmitted by the bite of either a deer tick or black-legged tick. Other common infections transmitted by ticks—notably Babesia, Bartonella and Ehrlichia—often contribute to the condition’s severity.
Lyme Disease Symptoms
Although Lyme disease is easily treated in its early stages, the condition is difficult to diagnose. This is due mainly to the wide range of symptoms and to the poor reliability of lab tests that are currently used for identifying the Lyme-related infections.
Early signs of infection include:
- Muscle and Joint Aches
- Swollen Lymph Nodes
- A Distinctive Bulls-Eye-Shaped Rash called Erythema Migrans (EM)
70- 80% of people who contract Lyme disease show symptoms within the first 30 days. However, most cases are likely to be missed and thus are not reported. In fact, some don’t even notice the disease or its symptoms for months afterward.
For those who fail to stop the infection in a quick and timely manner, symptoms can escalate and cause serious problems. Severe symptoms include:
- Joint, Bone, and Tendon Pain
- Heart Palpitations
- Severe Headaches
- Inflammation of the Brain and Spinal Cord
Diagnosing Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is usually diagnosed via the presence of the symptoms mentioned above, especially EM, as well as evidence of possible exposure to ticks that carry it. Therefore, if you haven’t been in areas where black-legged ticks live, you may not be tested for Lyme disease.
While there are blood tests that check for antibodies indicating a person carries Lyme disease, they are not typically used to diagnose it. This is done because it cannot yet detect the antibodies in some individuals who are recently infected. After a confirmed case of Lyme in its early stages, antibiotics usually resolve the issue within two to four weeks.
How to Prevent Lyme Disease
The easiest and best way to prevent Lyme disease is to protect yourself from ticks and tick bites.
John Aucott, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine and Director of the John Hopkins Lyme Disease Clinical Research Center says that high season for ticks transmitting the disease is during the summer. Additionally, there is a “second, smaller peak in the fall when the adult ticks are feeding, so we always see a second surge of cases in the fall.”
Keep in mind that there is no reason to worry or fret. Most individuals who get Lyme disease completely recover after receiving antibiotics. However, when concerning the few who do endure with Chronic Lyme disease, we hope to find a cure soon.
What is Chronic Lyme Disease?
Chronic Lyme disease is not a medical diagnosis and there has been some controversy over whether the condition and terminology are legitimate or not.
Dr. Aucott explains: “Chronic Lyme disease is a general term we avoid using because it means so many different things to so many different people. It isn’t a specific diagnosis—it’s more of a patient impression or concern that the doctor needs to figure out. A lot of times it has nothing to do with Lyme disease because the patient just doesn’t feel well and doesn’t know why.”
Chronic Lyme Disease Symptoms
Lyme disease as a multisystem disease affects the entire body, including muscles, bones, cartilage, brain, heart, skin, eyes, ears, head, neck, and face, as well as the digestive, respiratory, circulatory, reproductive, and nervous systems.
Symptoms commonly linked with chronic Lyme disease include:
- Severe Fatigue
- Debilitating Joint Pain or “Lyme Arthritis”
The symptoms of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses can be diverse and perplexing. For example, digestive problems can include diarrhea, constipation, nausea, stomach pain, and symptoms of gall bladder disease. The respiratory and circulatory challenges may include shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, heart palpitations, night sweats, heart blockage, murmurs and even heart attack.
Other signs of advanced Lyme and tick-borne illness include:
- Unexplained Weight Changes
- Repeatedly Contracted Infections
- Increased Allergic Sensitivity and Reactivity
- Pain Moving from One Part of the Body to Another
- Symptoms that Come and Go
For some people, the infection can lay dormant for years and suddenly manifest for no defined reason. For many others, symptoms manifest within a few months following the initial tick bite—regardless if antibiotic treatment was received at the onset.
Diagnosing Chronic Lyme Disease
Because most physicians have inadequate training in identifying Lyme and tick-borne disease symptoms, the condition is frequently overlooked or misdiagnosed. Moreover, because some Lyme-related symptoms are psychological in nature—like frequent anxiety, heavy moods, poor concentration, and short-term memory lapses—the condition tends to be dismissed.
Since the symptoms of untreated Lyme disease are general in description, it can be challenging to spot a true case. According to Dr. Aucott, there is a defined condition that affects approximately 10 percent of people who get Lyme disease called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.
What is “Post-Treatment” Lyme Disease?
Post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome differs from chronic Lyme disease as it has a specific, diagnosable condition. However, there are currently no medical tests that confirm you have it.
When figuring out if someone has the condition or not, Dr. Aucott says:
“The key thing is that they were healthy, they got Lyme disease, they were treated, but never restored their health to their former healthy self. They remained ill with this typical constellation of symptoms that includes fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, and cognitive complaints, such as short-term memory loss and difficulty concentrating.”
Unfortunately, there is no current remedy to post-treatment Lyme disease. Although studies researched the possibility of long-term intravenous antibiotics to combat Lyme disease, this was found ineffective.
Dr. Aucott also notes, “We don’t know about other treatments because they haven’t been studied.”
Overcoming Chronic Lyme and Other Tick-Borne Diseases
Dr. Pittman and The Carolina Center’s approach to treating Lyme and other tick-borne diseases is grounded in principles laid out in the Physician Training Program, sponsored by the International Lyme And Associated Diseases Society. Our approach utilizes a combination of strategies that address nutrient deficiencies, immune dysfunction, hormone imbalances, along with the careful use of antibiotics. this serves as a first line therapy and thus plays a pivotal role in combating Lyme disease. Much of the art of treating this condition is determining when and how to use antibiotics, immune and hormonal support, detoxification, nutritional therapies, and some combination of these options.
Antibiotics are always the first course of action for anyone who has experienced a tick bite and now has acute symptoms of fatigue, body pain, headaches, and generalized flu-like symptoms. Although Lyme disease is easily treated with antibiotics in its early stages, if undiagnosed until it has progressed considerably, then chronic symptoms can develop. This more persistent form of Lyme disease obviously requires a more aggressive treatment approach.
Other factors that affect the ability to recover from Lyme disease include the following: treating the co-infections with other tick-borne organisms as well as other organisms (bacteria, yeast, or parasites); removing toxic metals and other environmental pollutants that disrupt the immune system; correcting cellular nutrient deficiencies that ultimately compromise the immune and detoxification systems; and addressing hormonal imbalances that are often due to Lyme-related damage to the hypothalamus, resulting in numerous deficiencies.
Tools and Components to Help Overcome Lyme and Chronic Lyme Disease
The tools embraced for treating Lyme disease are designed to not only eradicate the infection, but to bolster energy, sleep, mood, and overall functioning. These changes, in turn, give our patients the sense of peace and control they need to fully turn this situation around.
The key components of our integrative medicine protocol include:
- Stabilization of chronically ill patients, using a combination of intravenous nutrient therapies (to correct deficiencies) and detoxification therapies (colon hydrotherapy, glutathione support, and other techniques);
- Treatment of the digestive system with a variety of nutrients that improve absorption, bolster immune system functioning, and restore the normal flora to an optimal balance.
- Treatment of chronic gut infections, focusing on removal of the “biofilm” that protects these organisms using a combination of pharmaceutical and natural anti-microbial agents.
- Promotion of elimination and detoxification through the use of colon hydrotherapy
- Implementation of other detoxification techniques including modified fasting, chelation therapy and glutathione therapy.
- The use of hyperbaric therapy to promote cellular repair, immune system stimulation and detoxification.
- The use of immune boosting pharmaceuticals and supplements necessary for the body to ultimately control the infection when antibiotics are no longer being used.
- Note: For patients who have been on extended periods of antibiotic therapy prior to being seen at the Carolina Center, we often recommend a break from those treatments to assist with improving detoxification, immune function, and gut repair.
Our overall approach continues to be informed by clinical trainings sponsored by the International Lyme And Associated Diseases Society and through direct work with leading Lyme physicians in the Northeast. Also, by affording increased antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection, the addition of specific nutritional and herbal supplements can further improve therapeutic outcomes for Lyme patients, as reported by University of California researchers in the September 2009 issue of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
*Dr. Pittman is Medical Director of the Carolina Center for Integrative Medicine, former President of the North Carolina Integrative Medicine Society, and a member of North Carolina’s Vector Disease Task Force. Mark N. Mead, MSc, is a nutrition educator and research consultant. For more information about the Carolina Center, call (919) 571-4391 or visit www.carolinacenter.com
A Story of Hope: Janet’s Recovery from Lyme Disease [Case of Barbara Miller]
Two years ago, a 56-year-old woman named Janet came to our Raleigh office complaining of various symptoms that had progressively worsened over several years. These included back pain, muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing, fevers and sweats, numbness and tingling of her lower extremities, shooting pains throughout her body, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, and irregular heartbeats. She had visited numerous physicians, including three neurologists claiming they found nothing wrong with her.
The relentless pain and discomfort took a toll on her normally upbeat disposition. “The symptoms gradually took over my life,” Janet recalls. “I became physically and mentally handicapped. Prior to the diagnosis, I went through a long period of time where the symptoms and intensity increased. It was both stressful and discouraging to be passed along from one doctor to another without any positive results or a diagnosis.” Three of her doctors suggested she see a psychologist.
Her initial labs were strongly positive for active Lyme Disease and she had a classic history of numerous tick attachments dating from shortly prior to the onset of her symptoms. Prior to commencement of antibiotic therapy, Janet underwent comprehensive testing to assess her nutritional status and immune, toxic burden, detoxification capacity, and other factors then treatments were employed to redress nutrient imbalances and prepare her digestive system for antibiotic therapy.
We then started her on an aggressive treatment protocol that helped her feel more at peace and in control. “It was a huge relief to finally get on a plan designed to get my healthy life back,” says Janet. “Over the past year I have worked with every person at the Carolina Center and felt totally supported and encouraged. At this point, I have greatly improved, and my attitude is once again positive. I am feeling and functioning much better every day and am deeply grateful to have my life back.”
By spring of 2012, Janet was 75% better, with nearly all physical pain eliminated and most other symptoms resolved. However, she still suffered from periodic dizziness, disorientation, and numbness and tingling in her extremities—all symptoms attributed to neurologic Lyme disease. At that point, we realized Janet was not going to fully recover without antibiotic therapy to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and reach the central nervous system.
We started her on a Lyme-specific antibiotic called Rocephin (ceftriaxone), and her oral antibiotic regimen was adjusted so that all life cycle stages of the Lyme bacteria were addressed. We also treated her for the coinfection known as Babesia, which was strongly suspected in her case due to her pattern of fevers and sweats. Janet immediately noticed a more dramatic response to treatment. “I can feel this working in my head like nothing else,” she said soon after starting the new treatment protocol.
Though Janet did experience a brief worsening of her symptoms—the Herxheimer, or “die off” reaction, that results from toxins being released as microbes are killed by antibiotics—she is now stable and feeling positive about her future. “I have begun to have days when I feel like my old self more than ever,” she says. “It’s been a long journey, but I’m feeling stronger and better than I have in a very long time.”
My hope is that Janet’s story will inspire other patients who are striving to overcome advanced, chronic Lyme disease. Though her recovery from this condition is ongoing, there is little doubt that she has largely reclaimed her life and her health. At least some of the credit must be given to her proactive attitude and willingness to embrace a healthier diet and lifestyle, as well as the nutritional and herbal supplement regimen to which she has been adhering. As she continues to get even stronger, I expect that Janet will motivate others with chronic Lyme disease to face their challenges with authentic hope and with the conviction that they can, indeed, overcome this seemingly intractable illness.
*DISCLAIMER: This blog and the material herein are provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat, diagnose, or make any claims regarding the content herein. Use of this blog does not create a doctor-patient relationship. If you have a medical condition, you should consult with a licensed physician in your state.
Overcoming Chronic Lyme Disease with The LaCava Center
At the LaCava Center for Integrative Medicine, our doctors have noticed Lyme to be a smart and debilitating disease. We have seen many cases of false negatives in lab testing and even cases where previous treatment proved ineffective resulting in chronic Lyme. Such cases enabled us to search for a lab with the expertise to properly test for Lyme’s existence. After trial and error, we found such a lab and now partner with it for almost all our Lyme testing.
If you have suffered from a debilitating disease and have not gotten better, we encourage you to contact us today at (847) 695-6262 or via our online form to discuss your case with our doctors!