Lyme disease is a debilitating tick-borne illness that affects around 300,000 Americans every year. When a person contracts Lyme disease, it is often an arduous journey to find out what is causing their symptoms. Since Lyme disease can present similarly to other conditions (including MS, arthritis, and fibromyalgia), it’s hard to diagnose.
The only course of treatment for the Borrelia bacteria that causes Lyme disease is antibiotics. Once a positive result of Lyme disease comes back, an antibiotics course is administered in the hopes of ridding the body of the bacteria and restoring overall health. Antibiotics don’t cure the disease, though, because the bacteria can remain inside the body, “hiding” from the medication and immune cells. This is what often leads to chronic Lyme disease and ongoing symptoms. But just how serious can these symptoms become? For example, can Lyme disease cause kidney failure?
The damage Lyme disease can do
Lyme disease can damage all of the body’s systems. Specifically, the illness can wreak havoc on:
- The heart and circulatory system
- The central nervous system
- Joints and bones
- The immune system
- Gastrointestinal system
So, can Lyme disease cause damage to the renal system? Yes. Let’s get to the bottom of how that occurs, and what can happen if it does.
What is the renal system?
The renal system is made up of several different parts of the body that are designed to regulate the urinary or excretory system. The parts of the body that make up the renal system are:
- Urinary tract
The system is responsible for filtering out toxins, expelling them from the body through the urinary tract. The kidneys are the main organ involved in the proper functioning of the renal system, and they do more than just excrete things the body doesn’t need. They are also in charge of keeping a healthy amount of certain minerals available and in the bloodstream by playing a key role in nutrient absorption.
Renal system dysfunction caused by Lyme disease
The renal system is a vital part of the overall functioning of the body. Without the ability to filter the blood, it can lead to the aforementioned symptoms and conditions.
The damage done to the renal system following a Lyme disease infection can:
- Cause the kidney filtration system to cease functioning, or function at a lower level.
- Aid in the formation of lesions on the kidneys.
- Cause the build-up of waste in the bloodstream.
- Lead to the leakage of proteins and red blood cells out of the system.
- Eventually cause kidney disease or kidney failure.
Can Lyme disease affect kidney function?
Kidney disease can be a prevalent problem in patients who suffer from Lyme disease. In cases of chronic Lyme disease-induced kidney disease, the bacteria causes lesions on the kidneys, and can also cause glomerular disease.
Glomerular disease is a condition that causes red blood cells and proteins to leak out of the bloodstream and body and into the urinary tract. The condition can also cause the build-up of certain wastes because it damages the kidneys’ ability to rid the body properly of that waste.
What are the symptoms of renal problems caused by Lyme disease?
When Lyme disease causes glomerular disease in patients, the symptoms can be serious and debilitating. They include:
- Edema (swelling) in the face, hands, feet, and other parts of the body
- Muscle and tissue loss caused by low amounts of protein in the blood
- Kidney disease leading to tiredness, insomnia, weight loss, itchy skin
- Blood in the urine
These signs and symptoms need to be addressed immediately as they can lead to permanent damage to kidney function, which can cause seizures, coma, or in the worst cases, death.
Other symptoms to look out for if you suspect the development of chronic kidney disease include:
- Gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss
- Chest pain or shortness of breath from the build-up of fluids
- Skin irritations such as pigmentation changes and unexplainable scratch marks
- Muscle issues such as twitching and cramping
- Cognitive decline (brain fog, decreased mental alertness)
- Chronic fatigue and widespread weakness
Is there treatment for renal damage caused by Lyme disease?
As mentioned above, the only treatment available for Lyme disease is antibiotics. Following this, lingering symptoms need to be treated separately and specifically for their severity. If kidney disease does develop because of Lyme disease infection, it will need to be treated separately but in conjunction with other symptoms and chronic ailments.
To control the symptoms and slow further damage to the kidneys, doctors may prescribe medications for:
- High blood pressure
- Bone health
- A low-protein diet
These medications all play a critical role in the restoration of the renal system, but each one will be specific to a patient’s needs and their level of kidney damage. In the worst cases, kidney disease can progress to a dangerous level. This is called end-stage kidney disease. In this case, treatment will come in the form of dialysis or a kidney transplant. These more serious treatments are done only in the worst cases to avoid complete kidney failure.
What should doctors look out for?
If you suspect your patient may be experiencing renal disfunction caused by Lyme disease, it’s important to get medical history and perform the necessary tests. Blood tests will allow you to determine if there is a build-up of any proteins or wastes in the bloodstream. A urine sample will give you a good idea of what is being excreted from the body and whether or not blood is present in the urinary system.
The best way to battle renal system issues caused by Lyme disease is to diagnose early and begin treatment immediately. The longer these problems are left without treatment, the harder to treat and more serious they become.
Image by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash