LYME DISEASE 101
What is Lyme?
Everything you need to know and Why it is so important!
LYME DISEASE 101: Everything you need to know!
Join me on this 4-part series aimed at bringing awareness to the epidemic of Lyme Disease. In the last year, I have diagnosed over 100 People with Lyme Disease. A recent explosion in Lyme disease may be attributed to several factors that have been building over time:
- The vanishing habitat of the Deer is making Deer come closer to homes.
- Global warming is making the Tick breeding seasons longer.
- The Covid Pandemic has driven city dwellers to the beach, country, and suburbs in search of nature and space but increasing exposure to Ticks.
This content will come to you in a series of 5 Posts:
LYME 101: Everything you need to Know and Why it is so Important!
Part 1: Lyme Disease and Co-Infections
Part 2: Diagnosis and Testing of Lyme Disease
Part 3: Lyme Medical and Integrative Treatments
Part 4: Lyme Prevention
Part 5: Lyme in Children and Pets
For me, it’s Personal
I am passionate about testing my patients yearly and making sure that anything that remotely looks like Lyme is investigated. You can say that for me LYME is Personal……
I had Lyme for approximately 6 years before it was officially diagnosed. It took 6 years, 15 doctors and over 50,000$ out of pocket medical expenses to officially determine that I had Lyme. I knew I was not OK, and I was pretty sure it was Lyme. Lyme is called the “Great Imitator” because it tends to present like other diseases. It can often be the root cause of other diseases too. For years I dismissed my symptoms of vision loss, skin rashes, hives, night sweats, Joint pain, muscle pain, malaise, debilitating fatigue, memory loss, depression, anxiety, insomnia, numbness and tingling as other problems. These symptoms were surely attributable to other things such as menopause, herniated discs, stress, anxiety, and when there is nothing else to blame…. we could always blame it on gluten intolerance. But the intuitive part of me knew deep down that I was not OK and that I did have Lyme.
The Week before I got diagnosed with Lyme, I was a shell of a human. The fatigue was so debilitating that I had completely retracted from all things that were important to me: music, friends, family, travel and much more. I could only work and sleep. The pain was so debilitating that to walk 1½ mile would take me about 1 ½ hours. I felt like I was dying and was sure that what was happening to me was not living. The many doctors I saw just looked at me as a friendly healthy person. My bloodwork seemed healthy, and they dismissed the symptoms I had as Menopause, Stress, Depression and of the course the very famous….” it’s in your head” theory. I was furious! For a doctor to be told over and over by other Doctors that I was OK when I know I was not demoralizing. I had better things to do with my money and time than to be dismissed and not taken seriously. If you have ever felt this way, I know most of you have. I get you!
Finally, I found Dr. Benjamin Asher, and ENT and LYME specialist. He did an extensive Lyme test on me and confirmed that I did have it even though the traditional testing methods showed vague results. He put me on Doxycycline for one month as a treatment trial to see if it helped my symptoms. After one week on Doxycycline, I felt like I had been reborn. The chronic pain in my joints and muscles disappeared, the nerve pain reduced to something tolerable, the energy returned, and my brain started to work again. Lyme almost killed me, but Dr. Asher and Doxycycline saved my life. I need to be on treatment for Lyme for almost 1 ½ years. However, the meds are not benign, and I could never have tolerated the Lyme meds and treatment had it not been for the Naturopathic and Nutritional supplements and lifestyle recommendations.
Early in my years of practicing, I came to realize that I was good at helping people to heal from things that I had overcome myself. The illnesses and challenges that I have been able to overcome have given me tools to help patients recover from similar challenges. And so, my approach to Lyme is like my approach to most everything…. Integrative, non-judgmental, and compassionate.
PART 1: WHAT IS LYME?
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by a spiral-shaped bacterium (spirochete) called Borrelia burgdorferi. There are roughly two dozen species in the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato complex, not all are human pathogens. The worldwide distribution of the various species is not uniform. In the United States, almost all reported cases of Lyme disease appear to be the result of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto (Bbss) infections. In Europe, 3 species - B. garinii, B. afzelii, and Bbss, are responsible for most cases of Lyme disease. The various species are further divided into strains and there are hundreds of strains worldwide.
In its early stages, Lyme disease commonly results in a rash, joint pain, and headaches. Later-stage Lyme disease is characterized by arthritic pain, cognitive difficulties, fatigue, and other symptoms that can have an enormous effect on a patient’s life.
Lyme Disease Transmission
Most commonly Lyme Disease is acquired from the bite of an infected black-legged tick. In the United States, two types of black-legged ticks, Ixodes scapularis in the Northeast and upper Midwest and Ixodes pacificus in the West, transmit Lyme disease, caused by Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto. Black-legged ticks in other parts of the world transmit B. burgdorferi and several other Borrelia species.
Where is Lyme Found?
It is possible to contract Lyme disease in many areas across the United States, and throughout the world. Ticks carrying Lyme disease are found in tall grass, leaf litter, brushy and wooded areas, especially the woodland edge, in rural areas and in cities. In the United States the greatest areas of Transmission on in the North East, Midwest, and Northwest.
Symptoms of Lyme:
EARLY LYME Symptoms: Initial Bite to 8 weeks
Common symptoms of Early Lyme disease include a flu-like feeling plus:
- Rash - most are solid pink to red; uncommon: “bull’s-eye” or other appearance (only in 30% of Cases)
- Muscle and joint pain
LATE LYME Symptoms: Weeks 8-16 and on….
Once the infection spreads beyond the skin, it can affect any system of the body, causing many symptoms including:
- Debilitating fatigue
- Muscle pain
- Nerve pain and weakness
- Heart problems
- Psychiatric symptoms: anxiety, depression, irritability, psychosis, and more
- Difficulty with thinking, memory, language, and math skills
- Sleep disturbance
- Problems with vision and hearing.
CHRONIC LYME Disease and Symptoms: 6 mo-Several Years
If Lyme disease is not diagnosed and treated early, the spirochetes can spread and may go into hiding in different parts of the body. Weeks, months or even years later, patients may develop problems with the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, heart and circulation, digestion, reproductive system, and skin. Symptoms may disappear even without treatment and different symptoms may appear at different times.
Untreated or undertreated Lyme can cause some people to develop severe symptoms that are hard to resolve. This condition may be referred to as post-treatment Lyme disease (PTLD) or chronic Lyme disease (CLD).
Co-Infections of Lyme
The term “Lyme disease co-infection” typically describes the type of case in which a patient is simultaneously infected with Lyme disease and one or more of any of the other tick-borne diseases that are commonly transmitted by the ticks that spread Lyme.
Common Co-Infections include:
- Babesia: A parasite spread by ticks that causes a disease similar to malaria
- Bartonella: The bacteria that causes Cat Scratch Disease (also called cat scratch fever)
- Ehrlichia: A group of at least three sub-species that cause disease (Ehrlichiosis) in the U.S.
- Rickettsia rickettsii: The bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the deadliest tick-borne disease in the world
- Anaplasma: A bacteria causing Anaplasmosis, with a sub-species in the U.S. and another in China
Co-infections, diagnosis, and treatment
The presence of co-infections can significantly complicate the diagnostic process. Each co-infection needs to be tested for, diagnosed, and treated on its own. It is not uncommon for patients to undergo treatment for one tick-borne disease, only to have persistent symptoms related to a co-infection that was never diagnosed. When testing for Lyme disease, it is crucial that physicians consider and test for possible co-infections. It is possible to be infected with any one or more of the pathogens ticks carry. You could be infected with Babesia, for example, without getting Lyme, or contract TBRF Borrelia and Babesia, without Lyme.
What is Next?
So Lyme Disease and Tick Borne illness sound really scary right? Don’t worry. All these things have combined Medical and Holistic Treatments that work well to heal people using Integrative Medicine. The most important thing is to be on top of Prevention and Early Detection. The outcomes are much more favorable when you Get On IT Early!
The next newsletter will discuss the Testing and Diagnosis of Lyme Disease and Tick Borne Illness.
Nature Lover’s Don’t Fret. We got you!
Dr. Gabrielle Francis is a NYC Naturopathic Doctor that supports patients Recovering from Lyme disease.