Quick! Find the Tick!Recognizing Lyme Disease By Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

 

Since Lyme disease was first recognized in Connecticut in 1975, ticks infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease have been found in 95% of the states in the US, including California.   Often difficult to diagnose, Lyme disease can have long lasting and debilitating affects if not treated immediately.  Recognizing the risk factors and early symptoms can mean the difference between a full recovery and a lifetime of health problems.  While new treatment options are available for those suffering from the effects of Lyme disease, prudent awareness should be your first plan of attack.

Lyme disease generally occurs when a person is bitten by a tick infected with the spiral shaped bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi.  Ticks carrying the bacteria tend to be found in grassy areas inhabited by deer.  Scientists believe that an infected tick must be attached to its host for 48 hours in order for the host to become infected with the bacteria.  The sooner that a tick is discovered and removed, the lower the odds that an infection will occur.  However, if you suspect you’ve been bitten by a tick you should contact your health care provider immediately.

Lyme bacterium is a clever organism that is difficult to detect, diagnose, and treat. Symptoms of Lyme disease do not always present themselves in the same manner and can vary greatly from person to person.  Additionally, there is no concrete test to accurately determine if someone is infected with Lyme disease.  The most typical symptom of Lyme disease is a bulls-eye shaped rash that may occur at the site of the tick bite.  The rash, called Erythema Migrans (EM) tends to begin as a small red dot and then can expand outward over a matter of days or weeks.  The rash can eventually spread to different parts of the body and is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as headache, fever, stiff neck, muscle aches and fatigue.  Such symptoms are often believed to be the flu, yet unlike the flu, these symptoms can come and go or persist.  Unfortunately, not all people who are bitten by an infected tick will have the EM rash or, if they do, they may fail to notice it.

As mentioned, the rash along with flu-like symptoms may never present themselves even if you have been bitten by an infected tick.  Over several months or even years, if the tick bite has not been treated, more serious health problems can occur, such as arthritis, migrating body pains, heart problems and neurological problems, including meningitis, temporary paralysis of facial muscles, poor muscle movement, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, depression, and changes in sleeping habits.  Chronic stress or an underlying thyroid problem can further exacerbate the symptoms of Lyme disease.  Since these long-term symptoms tend to mimic other autoimmune system disorders, properly diagnosing the illness can be difficult.

If you’ve been bitten by a tick, there are two tests that your health care provider may order to determine if you have Lyme disease.  One test looks for the presence of the bacteria in your body while the other looks for the presence of antibodies produced to fight off the bacteria.  Neither of these tests are 100% accurate and a negative result does not mean that you are free of Lyme disease.  For this reason, your health care provider will need to consider many factors, including your medical history, in order to determine the best course of action.

A treatment plan for Lyme disease usually includes antibiotics, but due to its uniqueness many other modalities may also be needed, especially if the disease wasn’t detected early on.  They include herbs, supplements, adjusting pH levels, changing of diet, hyperbaric oxygen treatment, acupuncture, physical therapy, and detoxification therapy.  For example, a patient with arthritis symptoms might benefit from a combination of Essential Fatty Acid supplements to reduce inflammation in the joints along with acupuncture and physical therapy to relieve the pain.  Another patient may find relief by reducing or eliminating sugar along with properly balancing the body’s pH levels, which can slow the spread of the bacteria and may also reduce the severity of symptoms.

If you suspect that you’ve been bitten by a tick, contact your health care provider immediately, even if you aren’t displaying any symptoms or if your symptoms appear to go away.  Treating Lyme disease from the onset can dramatically improve your chances of a full recovery and can lower the possibility of debilitating health problems down the road.

 

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