Perhaps you’ve found your way to the LYME 101 page because you're newly diagnosed, are wondering if you have Lyme Disease, you are a friend or family member of someone with Lyme or you’ve seen a current upswing in the media regarding Lyme Disease. Whatever your reasons may be, below Lyme Advise will briefly address six of the primary questions that each person asks or wonders about when beginning their research.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a type of bacterium called a spirochete (pronounced spy-ro-keet) that is carried by deer ticks. An infected tick transmits the spirochete to the humans and animals it bites. Untreated, the bacterium travels through the bloodstream, establishes itself in various body tissues, and can cause a number of symptoms, many of which are severe. Lyme Disease manifests itself as a multisystem inflammatory disease that affects the skin in its early, localized stage, and spreads to the joints, nervous system and other organ systems in its later, disseminated stages.
Lyme is called “The Great Imitator,” because its symptoms mimic many other diseases. It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart. Many Lyme symptoms, such as fatigue, cognitive impairment, joint pain, poor sleep, mood problems, muscle pain, and neurological presentations also occur in other diseases. Hence, the symptoms of Lyme disease significantly overlap those of chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Many Lyme patients report being misdiagnosed with a different condition before being properly diagnosed with Lyme disease.
Ticks can harbor multiple infectious organisms, which can be transmitted through the same tick bite. While Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne illness in the country, other diseases are increasingly being reported.
Co-infections can be challenging to diagnose, as clinical features often overlap with many of the other tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease. However, the importance of identifying and treating polymicrobial infections is critical in getting a patient well.
Practitioners should consider co-infections in the diagnosis when a patient’s symptoms are severe, persistent, and resistant to antibiotic therapy. Physicians have found that co-infections typically exacerbate Lyme disease symptoms.
Testing & Treatment
Testing and Treatment for Lyme Disease is convoluted at best. Unreliable testing has less than a 50% chance of accuracy making diagnoses by CDC standards difficult to impossible. Co-infection tests are also lacking in definitive answers and some don’t even have tests currently available.
The treatment of Lyme Disease, when diagnosed in the early stages, is often successful with short courses of antibiotics, but more than 40% of Lyme patients go on to have what is called chronic, or persistent, Lyme Disease. At this stage, treatment options become highly variable. The disease affects each person differently requiring individualized treatment protocols but there is currently no one specific cure. Hundreds of thousands of people each year are being left to define their own ideas of treatment, search for doctors who can help and live for years and decades looking for answers on how to be treated and cured.
There is no lacking in controversy surrounding Lyme Disease. Everything from testing, treatment, symptoms, whether chronic Lyme Disease even exists, to the division of physicians treating Lyme patients, the politics, the dissemination of information, validity of peer reviewed studies and the supposed standards in place by the CDC, IDSA and Insurance companies have created a confusing and convoluted world for patients to try and navigate.
Currently, just about every topic surrounding Lyme Disease is up for debate making this one of the most controversial diseases since HIV came on the scene decades ago.