Lyme disease is an illness brought on by the Borrelia bacterium. It is spread to humans through tick bites. When ticks get hold of humans, they transfer the disease through the bloodstream, sending the bacteria to all areas of the body. Lyme disease became known and studied in the early 80s, but some fossilized ticks have been known to have carried the bacteria from as long as 15 million years ago.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Although symptoms may vary from mild to severe, the most common and well-known symptoms of early onset Lyme disease are flu-like in nature. They include fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and chills. Some who have contracted Lyme will also present with a rash in the shape of a bull’s eye at the site of the bite.
When Lyme disease progresses past the early stages, symptoms can become more severe and the likelihood of developing chronic Lyme disease is heightened. The later-stage symptoms include further rash development; Bell’s palsy; heart palpitations and other heart issues; and neurological deficits including memory loss, confusion, and inflammation of both the brain and spinal cord.
What are the long-term effects of Lyme disease?
Lyme disease can cause a host of different symptoms and ailments, but if caught early, it can be diagnosed and treated with antibiotics – specifically doxycycline. If left untreated, however, Lyme disease can progress into a very serious condition that can affect a person for the rest of their life.
Post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS) is categorized as a condition lasting over a period of months or even years that affects people who have been treated for Lyme disease with antibiotics. The disorder comes with a wide array of different issues, including trouble with sleeping, chronic fatigue, and neurological problems such as confusion and even cognitive changes.
What does Lyme disease do to the body?
When a tick transfers Lyme to a human during feeding, the virus spreads through the bloodstream. It does this when the bacteria grabs hold of blood vessels and moves along inside the bloodstream to areas of the body that will allow it to thrive. It is essentially the same process as the immune cells in the body that are meant to ward off infectious diseases.
Once it reaches the areas where it is most likely to survive, it sets up shop and begins attacking the system, including the nervous system, until it is either fought off with antibiotics or progresses, leading to serious complications down the line.
Lyme disease and the immune system
When Lyme disease gets hold of the cells in the body and begins its journey throughout, it attacks the immune system heavily. It does this by causing the body to have a heightened immune response (as it should), but without the ability to kill the cells, the immune system works in overdrive to no avail.
When the immune system begins to send the important cells needed to fight off infection, this causes inflammation that runs rampant throughout the entire body. The inflammation caused by the immune response then contributes to the damage in tissues and organs.
Which organs are affected by Lyme disease?
The organs affected by Lyme vary depending on the severity of the illness and how early it is caught and treated. In the early stages, the disease attacks mostly the immune system, compromising its ability to fight off the infection. As the disease spreads, it does so throughout the entire body, affecting every organ it reaches.
As Lyme can affect all the organs in the body, it can cause a variety of problems. The symptoms that occur with Lyme disease can also mimic other conditions, like the flu as mentioned above, or more serious conditions such as ALS/MND (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), MS (Multiple Sclerosis), fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and over 300 other conditions.
Which organs can Lyme disease damage?
Although Lyme can cause damage to all organs in the body, the most notable organs are the brain and heart. When it attacks the brain and central nervous system, patients can suffer cognitive impairment such as memory loss, poor concentration, problems with sleep, and various mood changes. The disease does this by crossing the blood-brain barrier (the separator between circulating blood in the brain and central nervous system fluid) and multiplying and inhibiting the proper function and transfer of blood and oxygen to where it needs to be.
Lyme carditis is the disorder that occurs when the bacteria that causes Lyme makes its way into the heart tissue. When it does, it wreaks havoc on the communication system and electrical signals from the upper and lower chambers of the heart, resulting in light-headedness, fainting, heart palpitations, and an abnormal heartbeat.
Because the cells of the bacteria that cause Lyme disease are able to disguise themselves under a biofilm, the immune system’s ability to properly attack the actual infection is threatened. This causes the released immune cells to attack the body instead of the bacteria. Lyme disease bacteria cells also have a way of hiding in plain sight, meaning that if there’s too much of a threat to their existence, they can lay dormant until they’re able to flourish again. This leads to the illness becoming chronic and harder to treat in the long run, which aids in the bacteria’s war on the body and all organs.
Featured image by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash