Infectolab - pulmonary system

3 Ways Lyme Disease Can Damage The Pulmonary System

Lyme disease is undoubtedly one of the most mysterious major diseases on the planet. Even as it approaches pandemic levels of cases all over the world, many of its machinations remain elusive to patients and doctors alike. It is unprecedented to have such little visibility on such a widespread, debilitating disorder. Take cancer, for instance: no, we have not found a permanent, reliable cure for cancer as of 2019, but we know how it works and how to correctly diagnose it. When it comes to Lyme, both of those areas prove problematic.

Lyme poses issues all over the body, often starting out as a generalized set of symptoms, which are possibly not even severe. However, over time, these symptoms can worsen and become dangerous, which is why correct diagnosis is so paramount. One of the danger areas that Lyme can infect is the pulmonary system, otherwise known as the respiratory system.

Infectolab - lungs
Image by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash: Read on for all you need to know about Lyme disease and the pulmonary system.

A Tale of Two Lymes

Before investigating the toll that Lyme takes on the pulmonary system, it’s important to define the disease as best we can. One crucial element of the disorder must always be kept front and center during discussion: the fact that there are two distinct varieties of Lyme disease. Of course, they are the same disorder, and both have the same genesis.

Lyme is exclusively transmitted to humans via ticks, who transfer the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria to their host during feeding. However, the initial stage of the disease is known as acute Lyme and presents with symptoms very similar to the flu. In addition, a telltale sign of acute Lyme infection is a bullseye-shaped rash, which develops at the site of the bite in a large number of cases. Acute Lyme is a legitimate, widely recognized disorder, which is easily treatable with antibiotics. However, if the window to treat acute Lyme is missed, the infection shifts to its chronic stage, bringing with it a whole new set of issues.

Chronic Lyme Disease

Chronic Lyme bears little resemblance to the acute stage of the disease. This is largely because it incorporates new symptoms, caused not by the infection itself, but the body’s response to that infection. The result is chronic inflammation, which particularly affects the joints. Aches and pains are common, as well as constant severe fatigue due to the misfiring immune response. Meanwhile, the main Borrelia infection can continue to run riot in the patient’s system, causing both neurological complications and (as we’ll shortly see) respiratory complications to boot.

Lyme disease is sometimes called The Great Imitator, because of its unique ability to mimic the symptoms of other chronic disorders. Misdiagnosis rates are extremely high, with chronic Lyme continually being mistaken for disorders like MS and fibromyalgia. In addition, to treat chronic Lyme successfully, you need to simultaneously tackle both infection and inflammation symptoms. All of these elements make it an extremely hard disease to both diagnose and subsequently treat.

Lyme Disease and the Pulmonary System

Borrelia bacteria can infect many different areas of the body, taking a toll on the digestive system and central nervous system. Equally serious are invasions into the pulmonary system. The heart and lungs are obviously critical parts of the body to keep healthy, and although Lyme disease is usually non-fatal, any breach of respiratory defenses can lead to severe health complications in patients, sometimes resulting in death.

Yet the signs and symptoms of Lyme-related respiratory problems are often hard to pinpoint. As it’s a result of an overriding infection and not an issue with the pulmonary system in isolation, doctors can easily misdiagnosis at this critical juncture. Here are three important ways that Lyme can damage the pulmonary organs.

1. Diaphragmatic Paralysis

The diaphragm is the muscle that stretches the length of the torso and separates the lungs from the abdominal organs. It is controlled by the phrenic nerve. Paralysis of this muscle can severely restrict breathing, and over time, limit it completely. Although this is a rare symptom, diaphragmatic paralysis has been reported in Lyme patients, most notably from a patient who was already receiving regular doses of the antibiotic doxycycline.

2. Lyme Carditis

Lyme carditis is a severe Lyme complication and occurs when Borrelia bacteria enter the heart tissues. The result is an interference in the electrical signals of the heart, and potential disruption to the beating of the organ. Otherwise known as “heart block,” this condition can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the cause. Although this is a rare complication of Lyme, it has consistently proved to be a fatal one; nine people have died from Lyme carditis between 1985 and 2018, according to the CDC.

3. Pulmonary Fibrosis

This is by far the most common of the three complications we have listed, but is unfortunately no less severe. This is the most blatant answer to the question, “Can Lyme disease damage the pulmonary system?” Pulmonary fibrosis occurs when lung tissue becomes scarred and damaged. In itself, it’s a complicated disease to pin down, but that diagnostic problem is compounded further by chronic Lyme. One particular case describes a Lyme patient with rapidly interstitial pulmonary fibrosis, which eventually proved fatal despite doctors’ best efforts.

Image by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash: Lyme disease can lead to serious complications such as pulmonary fibrosis.

Lung damage from pulmonary fibrosis cannot be repaired, so it’s important to catch the spread of Lyme early on in its progression. If you suspect you have Lyme disease, the best primary weapon you have against it is a rapid and correct diagnosis. To avail of this, you need to find a Lyme-literate specialist as quickly as possible. They will be able to correctly ascertain if you have chronic Lyme, and from there, you can discuss treatment options. Unfortunately, until suitable diagnostic procedures become commonplace in the medical community, we will continue to catch many cases of Lyme when it’s already too late.

Featured image by kalhh on Pixabay

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