Even though it all stems from one tiny tick bite, Lyme disease can wreak havoc on the entire body. Many symptoms of Lyme are generalized and are often mistaken for other diseases. They manifest in different ways depending on the patient, and even within the same person they can appear inconsistent and misleading. Compounding this is the fact that Lyme exists within a medical grey area. It is undoubtedly a real condition, with hundreds upon thousands of sufferers all over the world. However, it is also not fully recognized in its chronic form. Unfortunately, the late stages of the disease are the most damaging, and it’s here that patients require the most care and consideration. Symptoms are varied and debilitating, primarily affecting muscles and joints. But neurological symptoms can also occur in some cases. So what is the link between Lyme disease and the nervous system?
First of all, it’s important to underline how Lyme disease affects patients. It is spread through tick bites, when bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi are transferred into the host’s bloodstream by a carrier tick. The first stage of the disease is known as the acute stage, and the initial symptoms of Lyme can often be quite tame. Because of this, they are easy to miss, especially if the initial bite is not noticed before the tick drops off. In many cases, a distinctive bullseye rash will form around the sight of the bite, presenting as a red ring surrounding a central red circle. However, these rashes can also go unnoticed. Aside from that one distinctive symptom, the acute phase of Lyme disease can present much like the common flu, with fever, aches, headaches, and fatigue. This leads many people to ignore the symptoms, assuming they will dissipate over time.
The acute symptoms do indeed dissipate, but the Borrelia bacteria does not. After a number of days or weeks, the acute phase will recede, and with it goes the window for successful straightforward treatment. Despite the severe debilitation it can inflict on patients, Lyme disease is surprisingly treatable with antibiotics, as long as it is in the acute stage. Once it’s given a chance to progress to the chronic stage, symptoms become much more insidious and severe, and treatment much more complicated. So why is this? Why does chronic Lyme pose so many problems for doctors and patients alike, and why is it still yet to be officially recognized by the medical mainstream community?
Chronic Lyme, is, as the name suggests, a long-term condition. Symptoms manifest because of both infection and inflammation. In fact, in some chronic Lyme cases, the infection has almost completely receded, while the immune system has kicked into overdrive, faced with a bacteria it can’t seem to eradicate. The result is a constant, debilitating fatigue and chronic inflammation, leading to joint pain, muscle aches, and difficulty moving. This symptom also mimics many other debilitating chronic disorders, such as MS and fibromyalgia. Because of this, Lyme is often called “the Great Imitator”, and misdiagnosis rates are high. This is, of course, compounded by the fact that chronic Lyme is not officially recognized, making it much harder for doctors to be literate in its diagnosis and treatment.
Inflammation symptoms are not the end of chronic Lyme’s remit, however. With good reason, many people wonder “Can Lyme disease damage the nervous system?” or “Can Lyme disease affect my brain?” The short answer is yes. In some cases, the Borrelia bacteria can infect the spinal fluid and/or breach the blood-brain barrier. This will result in a number of unusual and concerning symptoms, which can debilitate patients further.
The facial nerve can often be one of the first to be affected, resulting in a condition known as Bell’s palsy. This temporary condition results in paralysis on one side of the patient’s face. If total paralysis doesn’t occur, patients may also feel a weakening of muscles on either side of the face, and become unable to move them effectively.
2. Cognitive Defects
Lyme can cause a number of cognitive defects in patients, though they can often be non-specific and hard to categorize. The most appropriate term is “brain fog”, which describes a general cognitive impairment, ranging from mild to severe. Patients may experience difficulty thinking clearly, or notice problems with their short-term memory. In addition, patients can also feel confused or disorganized, or have difficulty finding words.
3. Weakness and Numbness
Muscle weakness or numbness and tingling in the limbs can also present in patients. These symptoms are often the cause of misdiagnosis, as many chronic conditions have these in common.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, and you think you may have contracted Lyme disease, the first thing you should do is find a doctor who knows what they’re talking about. Remember, many medical professionals are not well-versed in chronic Lyme, and getting stuck with the wrong doctor will undoubtedly lead to frustration and potential misdiagnosis. Experts like those at Infectolab Americas and BCA-clinic in Germany have been studying Lyme disease for years and treat patients with the respect and consideration they deserve. The first step to successful treatment is a successful diagnosis. To relieve your symptoms, you first need to be sure of what you’re dealing with.