Lyme Disease: Two Times More Common Than Breast Cancer and Just as Deadly
Disclaimer: The following information has not been approved by the FDA. This information should not be interpreted as medical advice and is not a substitute for a visit with a medical care professional. Always speak to your doctor about any health concerns.
Lyme disease is a complex bacterial infection that has been exploding throughout the US in the last 30 years. But this illness doesn’t restrict itself to borders — there are actual more than 300 various strains of the Lyme bacteria on every continent in the world (except, unsurprisingly, Antarctica).
Unfortunately, the increase in these cases hasn’t been recognized by the CDC or the medical community at large, resulting in hundreds — if not thousands— suffering from undiagnosed or misdiagnosed Lyme disease.
At The Healthy Place, we’re pretty passionate about raising awareness around and supporting those in our community who are suffering from this deadly disease.
We might be a little more vocal about this deadly disease than your average nutrition store because we have two family members and a dozen customers who suffer from it. The side effects and symptoms have caused varying degrees of disability. For some, they’ve had to leave successful careers to explore new home-based (or bed-based) avenues of work. Others have found refuge in wheelchairs and walkers, while others struggle with organ failure, anxiety, and intestinal distress so severe that their diets are restricted to about a dozen food options.
This disease does not respect race, gender, or age, but rather has infected and affected those of the most diverse backgrounds. The symptoms and severity vary as well, but all have had their lives profoundly changed by this illness.
So, let’s learn a little about it.
A History of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease has been around for millennia, though most of us in the United States are only aware of its more recent history. Despite having been actively researched in Europe, specifically Germany, since the late 1800’s, most Americans associate this illness with the bizarre outbreak of a strange debilitating illness in Lyme, Connecticut in the 1970’s. Symptoms ranged from swollen joints, skin rashes, and headaches to paralysis, seizures, long hospital stays, and severe chronic fatigue. Puzzled, most physicians gave up and left their patients untreated and undiagnosed.
Rumor has it that it was actually two mothers who saved the day. They began actively researching symptoms, others who had been affected, and contacting medical scientists to look for answers. Their determination to find solutions for their sick children was a catalyst for the medical community to start taking action.
The 1980’s and Dr. Burgdorferi
In 1981, a scientist studying another tick-borne illness, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, began to study Lyme disease. He found that the disease was carried by deer ticks, in the form of a bacterium called a spirochete. In honor of Dr. Willy Burgdorfer, the bacterium was dubbed Borrelia burgdorferi.
Dr. Burgdorfer started treatments of antibiotics, with some effect, particularly on the early-stage cases of Lyme disease. His research inspired others to continue investigations, though not on a wide scale.
Current Lyme Research
Since the 1980’s, Lyme disease has increased dramatically. So much so, that Lyme disease was included as one of the top ten notifiable diseases by the CDC. Unfortunately, this acknowledgment did little in furthering the education of medical physicians in regard to the complexity of the treatment of Lyme disease, or the public at large.
These days, Lyme disease is one of the fastest-growing vector-borne infections in the United States. It’s estimated that there are over 325,000 new cases of Lyme disease each year within the United States alone — almost twice the number of new breast cancer cases each year! Lyme disease has now been reported in every state within the continental US. And, to top this off, the diagnostic tools that are used to confirm the presence of the Borrelia burgdorferi spirochetes are imperfect at best.
Obviously, there is plenty of room for research and awareness.
What Exactly Does the Lyme Bacteria Do?
The bacteria, once in the body, immediately looks for a place to hide out. The corkscrew shape of the bacterium allows it to inhabit viscous tissue, such as muscle, nerves, cartilage, and organs, including the heart, lungs, and brain because it drills itself into the tissue. Spirochetes find their way to other parts of the body by hitching a ride in your bloodstream, but generally, stay tucked away inside vital organs.
To make itself invisible (or at least more difficult to detect) to your body’s immune system, a Lyme spirochete can modify its genome, changing the antigens it gives off to hide itself from your body. Because it can change so quickly, your body and antibiotics have a hard time keeping up. Just about as soon as your body has nailed down its system of attack and an invader profile, the spirochete changes its appearance and your body has to start all over again.
To make things more complicated, the antigens that are rubbed off onto the cells of your body by the spirochete appear, to your immune system, like the invading bacteria itself. These parts of your body with the antigens are sometimes attacked by your immune system in an effort to rid itself of the invader. This is why Lyme Disease so often is mistaken for an autoimmune disorder — because your body is actually attacking itself.
As if this weren’t enough to be dealing with, Lyme spirochetes will also create biofilm communities, where they will be protected from your body’s immune system, antibiotics, and other defensive methods completely. Think of it like an invisible hideout inside your body where the attackers are totally safe from detection. These biofilm communities can successfully stay alive and hidden in your body for years, only to pop back out the moment that your health is compromised by other health challenges, hormonal changes (pregnancy, menopause), and even stress.
How Do You Get Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is usually transferred to humans through a tick bite. Both wood ticks (larger, brown ticks about the size of an ‘O’) and deer ticks (small, black ticks about the size of a period) can transmit Lyme disease, as well as a dozen other tick-borne illnesses.
The Lyme spirochete is transferred from the tick’s gut to the host through the tick saliva. The spirochete will initially infect the local area, but can quickly spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream.
But ticks aren’t the only hosts for Lyme disease. Flies, mosquitoes, fleas, and even spiders CAN transmit Lyme disease (though this is less common). Lyme disease can also be transmitted sexually, congenitally (through the placenta), and through blood transfusions.
You can read more on how to prevent tick bites and what to do if you’re bitten in this blog.
What are the Initial Symptoms of Lyme Disease?
Many people who currently suffer from Chronic Lyme do not remember having a tick bite. Only a mere 40% (or less!) of those bitten will experience the classic bull’s eye rash. A small irritated bite mark is more common, which is often mistaken for a spider bite.
Usually, people have a mild flu that’s barely noticed. Most will experience a low-grade fever, some joint pain and swelling, and other flu symptoms. Because it’s not uncommon to catch a spring or summer flu, most dismiss these symptoms as nothing more than a little bug.
Some will experience a more severe initial infection, suffering from intense muscular or joint pain, usually in the neck or knees. A high fever, nausea, dizziness, headaches, muscle aches, and other symptoms often accompany.
Symptoms of Chronic Lyme Disease Infection
If Lyme disease is not caught early on, these symptoms will progress to far more serious signs of illness. The following is a fairly comprehensive list of symptoms of Chronic Lyme Disease. You may experience a few of these or most of these at any given time. One of the earmarks of Lyme disease is the fluctuation of symptoms, which often come in cycles. These symptoms may change based on season, the activity of your immune system, the activity of the Lyme bacteria, your hormonal cycle, or other external and internal influences.
- Unexplained hair loss
- Headache, mild or severe, seizures
- Pressure in head, white matter lesions in brain (MRI)
- Twitching of facial or other muscles
- Facial paralysis (Bell’s Palsy, Horner’s syndrome)
- Tingling of the nose, tongue, or cheeks
- Jaw pain or stiffness
- Dental problems
- Sore throat
- Runny nose, especially in the mornings
- Stiff, painful neck
- Back pain
- Pain in the hips
- Tingling and muscle spasms
- Blurred or double vision
- Increased floating spots
- Pain in eyes, possible swelling around eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Flashing lights, peripheral waves, or phantom images in corner of eyes
- Decreased hearing in one or both ears, plugged ears
- Buzzing in ears
- Pain in ears, hypersensitivity to sounds
- Ringing in one or both ears
- Temporarily muffled hearing
- Irritable bladder (trouble starting, stopping) or interstitial cystitis
- Upset stomach (nausea or pain) or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
- Stomach pain
- Increasing number of food sensitivities
- Bone pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Stiffness and swelling of joints, back, neck, tennis elbow
- Muscle pain or cramps (Fibromyalgia)
- Migrant pain (sharp temporary pain, usually in muscles, bones, joints)
Respiratory and Circulatory Systems
- Shortness of breath, air hunger
- Chronic cough
- Chest pain or rib soreness
- Night sweats
- Heart palpitations, heart arrhythmia
- Endocarditis, heart blockage
- Tremors or unexplained shaking
- Burning or stabbing sensations in the body
- Fatigue, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Peripheral neuropathy or partial paralysis
- Pressure in the head
- Numbness or tingling throughout the body
- Poor balance, dizziness, difficulty walking
- Increased motion sickness
- Light-headedness, feeling of faintness
- Mood swings, irritability, bi-polar disorder
- Disorientation (getting or feeling lost)
- Feeling as if you’re going insane
- Over-emotional reactions, crying easily
- Excessive sleepiness, or insomnia
- Difficulty falling and/or staying asleep
- Narcolepsy, sleep apnea
- Panic attacks, anxiety
- Memory loss (short or long-term)
- Confusion, brain fog, difficulty thinking
- Difficulty concentrating
- Directional confusion or forgetting how to navigate to a well-known location
- >Slow or slurred speech
- Word gaps, or difficulty remembering well-known words or names
- Stammering speech
- Forgetting how to perform simple tasks
Reproduction and Sexuality
- Loss of sex drive
- Sexual dysfunction
- Unexplained menstrual pain, irregularity
- Unexplained breast pain, discharge
- Testicular or pelvic pain
- Phantom smells
- Sudden weight fluctuations
- Stubborn weight gain or inability to gain weight
- Swollen glands or lymph nodes
- Unexplained fevers (high or low grade)
- Continual infections (sinus, kidney, eye, bladder, yeast etc.)
- Low body temperature, difficulty keeping warm
- Chemical sensitivities
- Increased effect from alcohol and possible worse hangover
If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering from Lyme disease, we strongly recommend that you contact a Lyme literate medical doctor or naturopath as soon as possible. This disease is exceedingly difficult to treat and the longer it goes untreated, the deeper into your body it will dig and the more symptoms will develop.
We know that Lyme disease is incredibly expensive to treat, and most of the medical attention needed isn’t covered by insurance. We’d love to support those in our community who are struggling with Lyme disease, so if that’s you, when you drop in our store or give us a call, mention this article and get 20% off your total first-time purchase and a free membership that gives you 10% off future orders.
Here are some additional resources to help you learn more about Lyme disease and treatment.
Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Healing Lyme. Raven Press, Silver City, NM, 2005.
*Disclaimer: All information and recommendations given on this site, in email correspondence, newsletters or other materials provided by The Healthy Place is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice nor be viewed as a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider. Consult a licensed healthcare practitioner before modifying, stopping, or starting the use of any medications, health programs, diets, and/or supplements, as well as regarding any health concerns you may have. Our statements and information have not been evaluated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. As with any health-related program, product, or service, your risks and results may vary. We expressly disclaim responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or damage caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the information provided to you here.”
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are you treating your Lyme? Please join a Facebook lyme support group if you cant afford a Lyme literate Dr. They will help you find ways to treat yourself and help ease your symptoms. I have started treating with herbs and essential oils and am having improvement in symptoms. I was bedridden for an entire year with no help from reg Dr’s (also just put on many pills to mask symptoms) Now I am thankful to be treating my neuro Lyme and finding some relief from the pain & debilitating symptoms.
Yes, I’m in a couple of support groups online! Thanks, Denise!