What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a vector-borne infection caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme disease is most often transmitted by black-legged tick bites and in recent studies has also been found in mosquitos.
Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, is a corkscrew or helix-shaped organism called a spirochete. These spirochetes are known for being serious pathogens with Lyme disease’s cellular make-up being close to that of syphilis.
Borrelia burgdorferi can attack any organ in the body, including the central nervous system, the brain, the muscles, joints, the heart, and more.
Lyme disease was first discovered about 30 years ago in Lyme, Connecticut. Unfortunately, since then, Lyme disease has become the most undiagnosed and untreated epidemic in the world.
Many people often attribute Lyme disease to tick bites; however, recent studies have indicated that there are other ways people can get Lyme diseases such as mosquito bites, blood transfusions, and even gestationally (transmitted from mother to child).
Lyme Disease Risk Factors
Certain factors increase the likelihood of contracting Lyme disease, such as:
- Spending time in wooded or grassy areas
- Having exposed skin while outdoors
- Not using insect repellent
- Not promptly removing ticks from the skin
Early Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The initial symptoms of Lyme disease typically appear within 3 to 30 days after the tick bite. The most common early sign is a skin rash known as erythema migrans (EM), which occurs in approximately 70% of cases.
The rash begins as a flat or slightly raised red spot at the site of the tick bite and can expand to become a round rash up to 28.7 inches in diameter. The classic EM rash has a bull's-eye appearance, with a central circle surrounded by a clear ring and a larger rash.
Other early symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- Flu-like symptoms, such as fever and chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pains, general malaise, and swollen lymph glands
- Multiple red lesions, red oval-shaped plaques, or a bluish rash
Approximately 20% of people with Lyme disease may not experience any symptoms other than the EM rash.
Stages of Lyme Disease
The progression of Lyme disease is typically divided into three stages:
- Localized Lyme disease (Stage 1): The infection is focused in one area of the body.
- Early disseminated Lyme disease (Stage 2): The bacteria have begun to spread throughout the body.
- Late disseminated Lyme disease (Stage 3): The bacteria have spread throughout the entire body.
Later Symptoms of Lyme Disease
As the disease progresses, additional symptoms may develop during the early disseminated stage (Stage 2), which occurs weeks to months after the tick bite:
- Additional EM lesions
- Nerve pain
- Facial or Bell's palsy: Paralysis or weakness in the muscles on one side of the face
- Lyme carditis: A condition where the Lyme disease bacteria interfere with the normal process that coordinates the beating of the heart, causing palpitations, chest pain, or shortness of breath
In the late disseminated stage (Stage 3), which develops months to years after the infection begins, patients may experience:
- Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly in large joints such as the knees
- Pain in the tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
- Abnormal muscle movement
- Numbness and tingling in the hands or feet
- Cognitive problems, including issues with speech and short-term memory
- Severe headaches and neck stiffness caused by meningitis (inflammation of the membranes covering the spinal cord and brain)
Diagnosis of Lyme Disease
Diagnosing Lyme disease can be challenging due to the wide range of symptoms and the potential for other conditions to present similarly.
The diagnosis is typically based on a combination of factors, including:
- Patient history, specifically exposure to ticks or time spent in areas with a high risk of tick bites
- Physical examination, looking for signs such as the EM rash or swollen joints
- Blood tests to check for antibodies against the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium
It is essential to note that blood tests may not accurately detect the presence of Lyme disease in the early stages, as the body may not have produced enough antibodies yet. In such cases, the tests may need to be repeated after a few weeks.
Conventional Treatment for Lyme Disease
The primary treatment for Lyme disease is antibiotics, which are usually effective in eliminating the infection when prescribed early in the course of the disease.
The specific antibiotic and duration of treatment may vary depending on the severity and stage of the infection. In some cases, intravenous antibiotics may be required for more advanced stages or complications such as Lyme carditis or meningitis.
Holistic Treatment Options for Lyme Disease
In addition to conventional medical treatment, there are several holistic treatment options for Lyme disease and improving overall health and well-being.
These approaches can be used alongside traditional treatments to support the body's healing process and alleviate symptoms.
Refer to Dr. Sponaugle's video below that explains the importance of holistic treatment for Lyme Disease.
Prevention of Lyme Disease
Preventing tick bites and promptly removing ticks from the skin are the best ways to reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease. Some preventive measures include:
- Wearing long sleeves, pants, and closed-toe shoes when spending time in wooded or grassy areas
- Using insect repellent containing DEET or picaridin on exposed skin and clothing
- Checking for ticks on the body and clothing after spending time outdoors
- Showering within two hours of coming indoors to wash off any unattached ticks
- Promptly and adequately removing attached ticks using fine-tipped tweezers
In conclusion, understanding Lyme disease, recognizing its symptoms, and seeking early treatment are critical for managing the condition effectively. Adopting a holistic approach, including dietary changes, stress reduction, and sleep hygiene, can help support the body's healing process and improve overall well-being while battling Lyme disease.