One of the reasons Lyme disease is so hard to treat is the prevalence of misdiagnosis. But why do these cases of misdiagnosis occur on such a regular basis? Lyme has been recognized as a disease since 1975, when it was first discovered in the state of Connecticut. Yet we still know comparatively little about Lyme disease compared to other disorders. One reason is that the chronic form of the disease has yet to be legitimately recognized by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). This has unfortunately led to many medical professionals being undereducated in the symptoms of chronic Lyme.
Another problematic aspect is the symptoms of Lyme disease; they are generalized, vary from patient to patient, and affect different parts of the body. Paramount among these is the digestive system, which is the seat of many of the body’s natural immune defenses. But before we look at the specific effect that Lyme has on the digestive system, it’s important to define what the disease is, and what it isn’t.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which is transmitted to humans exclusively via tick bites. The acute stage of the disease resembles the flu, and indeed is often mistaken for it. Symptoms at this juncture include fever, headache, pain, and fatigue, as well as a crucial bullseye-shaped rash that forms around the bite. However, because it’s not always obvious to the host that they’ve been bitten, many people miss this critical Lyme symptom and subsequently dismiss the flu-like symptoms as well. Over a few weeks to a month or two, the disease will recede, before re-emerging as chronic Lyme.
The Dangers of Chronic Lyme
Chronic Lyme disease is much more complicated than acute Lyme. Antibiotics can largely cure acute Lyme if they are administered in time. However, they will not be enough to alleviate chronic symptoms. This is because chronic Lyme is a disease that triggers both infection and inflammation symptoms (not just infection, as in acute Lyme). Many of the most predominant symptoms are inflicted by the body’s own immune system. At the point the disease turns chronic, the bacterium has been in the system for a long time. Faced with this, the immune response overcompensates, resulting in widespread inflammation, especially around the joints. This can cause constant pain, crippling fatigue, and impaired movement. Meanwhile, the infection can spread to other areas of the body, causing all sorts of problems in the brain, spinal fluid, and digestive system.
Lyme Disease and the Digestive System
The gut provides us with the foundation of good health. Without a healthy gut, the rest of our body simply cannot function correctly. The process by which our bodies take in and process the benefits of the food we eat is extremely complex. Essentially, the bacteria in the gut absorbs nutrients from foods and processes them to provide us with energy. We require many different materials to achieve this. Chronic Lyme robs our digestive systems of these precious resources by upsetting the balance of microbiome in the gut, and as such, our bodies can’t produce the energy that we require to function properly. This is why chronic fatigue is such a pervasive and debilitating symptom of the disorder, and one of the many ways it robs patients of their preferred lifestyle.
Can Lyme Disease Damage the Digestive System?
As well as upsetting the natural balance in our stomachs, Lyme can also cause long-lasting damage to our digestive organs. Adrenal gland deficiency is surprisingly common in Lyme cases; as the bacteria takes its toll on the gut, it can lead to less hydrochloric acid being produced by the body. This in turn leads to the pancreas becoming unmotivated to produce the required digestive enzymes, which further results in undigested particles of food leaking into the bloodstream, where they ultimately cause further inflammation. Leaky gut is another common condition reported by Lyme sufferers. This occurs when toxins and bacteria are able to “leak” through the intestinal wall, due to imbalances in the gut microbiome. This condition can persist and worsen over time, bringing with it a whole new set of symptoms for the patient.
The Great Imitator
Eighty percent of our immune function is grounded in our gut. In addition, 70% of our lymphocytes are in there too, making it the primary defense against any incoming infections. If the gut is compromised, our bodies have far less of a fighting chance than usual against invading pathogens. In addition, problems in the gut can cause new symptoms of their own, compounding the effects of Lyme and stymying the patient’s natural defenses in the process. If all this sounds debilitating, it’s even more concerning when you think of how often Lyme goes misdiagnosed. It is known as The Great Imitator because of the array of generalized symptoms it produces in patients, and its uncanny ability to mimic other chronic diseases such as fibromyalgia or MS.
If you’re worried you might have contracted Lyme disease and are past the acute stage, the first step should be to consult a Lyme-literate doctor who’ll be able to apply the relevant tests and diagnose correctly. Although chronic Lyme is a much more difficult prospect to treat than acute Lyme, there are ways through the woods. Treatment paths involve combating the infection symptoms with antibiotics, and the inflammation and gut-related issues with natural supplements, in addition to robust nutritional therapy. Although it’s a much longer road, when it comes to combating chronic Lyme, the first step is always a solid diagnosis.