Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. The disease is transmitted through tick bites. When a tick with the bacteria latches onto a human host to feed on their blood, it transmits the bacteria into the bloodstream. From there, the bacteria have free reign over the entire body and can move into tissues long-term. But can Lyme disease give you brain fog or other cognitive symptoms?
Typically, Lyme disease presents with mild flu-like symptoms early on, alongside a bullseye rash around the tick bite. After those symptoms pass, the bacteria can cause other health issues as they freely roam into the joints, central nervous system, and brain. When the infection spreads, it can lead to many symptoms that affect brain health, including brain fog. But what is the connection between Lyme disease and brain fog, and can it be treated?
What is brain fog?
Most people have experienced a moment or two of brain fog in their lifetime. Have you ever forgotten your keys and only realized when you went to unlock your door? Or perhaps you’ve run into a casual acquaintance at the store and couldn’t remember their name. These two examples fit into the brain fog category, because the brain still works – it’s just a little bit “foggy”! That said, there is more to brain fog than simply forgetting or feeling too tired to think.
By definition, brain fog sums up a reduction in cognitive abilities such as attention or memory and is accompanied by confusion and brain fatigue. It is technically considered mild cognitive impairment, and is often chronic because it doesn’t usually go away even if you rest your mind for a while. This condition can be relentless and very disorienting.
Why does Lyme disease cause brain fog?
Typically, when there are brain symptoms from Lyme disease, they occur in post-treatment Lyme disease (PTLDS). PTLDS is a type of Lyme infection that persists long after the patient has taken an intense course of antibiotics to knock out the infection. If there are symptoms roughly six months following treatment, the condition is considered PTLDS.
There are two proposed theories surrounding brain fog caused by Lyme disease. The first involves the blood–brain barrier, a collection of tissues and blood vessels designed to keep anything in the blood separate from the brain to maintain overall brain health after infection or disease. The bacteria that cause Lyme disease may be able to cross over this barrier, leading to symptoms such as brain fog.
The second theory stems from the immune system’s reaction to the Lyme bacteria. When a pathogen is present in the body, the immune system spurs into action, creating cells and small proteins called cytokines to help fight off infection. Cytokines produce inflammation to signal where fighter cells must go in the body to kill the bacteria. However, in some infections, too many of these cytokines are produced, causing what is known as a cytokine storm. As the bacteria make their way into the brain, these cytokines cause brain inflammation to home in on where cells need to go to fight, causing unpleasant symptoms.
How does Lyme disease affect your brain and central nervous system?
During infection, if the bacteria end up in the central nervous system or the brain, the infection spreads to brain and nervous system cells. As a result, inflammation occurs, as mentioned above.
Another crucial part of brain fog caused by Lyme disease is central sensitization, which occurs when the central nervous system becomes heightened in response to input – more specifically, hypersensitive to specific stimuli. The inflammatory cytokines released during infection drive central sensitization, leading to the body being overly sensitive to substances that it may not otherwise react to.
The inflammation caused by Lyme disease can affect the following:
- Blood vessels in the brain
- Nerve roots that attach the brain to the spinal cord
- The myelin sheath – a protective coating over nerves in the brain and spinal cord
During the inflammation of these critical areas of the brain, symptoms of brain fog can develop.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease brain fog?
Several brain fog–associated symptoms can develop because of Lyme disease, including:
- Poor memory
- Slowed thinking processes
- Having difficulty remembering or retrieving words while speaking or writing
- Impaired fine motor control
- Poor attention span
- Lack of organizational skills
- Feeling “cloudy” in the brain
A person with Lyme-induced brain fog may not have all these symptoms, but it is possible.
Lyme disease brain fog treatment
While Lyme disease is difficult to treat, there are ways to address Lyme-induced brain fog. First, IV antibiotics must be administered. These are strong medications designed to fight off hard-to-kill bacteria such as Borrelia burgdorferi.
Other possible treatments for brain fog include:
- Vitamins and minerals: These can help the body fight off bacterial infections. They include vitamin C, vitamin D, silver, methylene blue, and gallium. IV glutathione is also helpful in warding off Lyme disease and the brain fog that can occur.
- Supplements: Immune-boosting supplements such as curcumin can help to lower cytokine levels, thus lowering inflammation that leads to brain fog.
- Lifestyle: Changing to an anti-inflammatory diet and getting at least 30 minutes of daily exercise can help reduce inflammation and improve the immune response.
- Getting a good night’s sleep: The body, including the immune system, relies heavily on sleep to function correctly. Getting enough good-quality sleep can help your body fight off brain fog caused by Lyme disease.
Brain fog caused by Lyme disease is hard to cope with. But it’s treatable with the right antibiotics, vitamins and supplements, and lifestyle changes.
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