Humans and animals contract Lyme disease when they’ve been bitten by a tick. Not all ticks carry Lyme, but ticks carrying bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi are the ones that spread disease. When a tick bites into human skin, its saliva introduces the bacteria into the person’s bloodstream. The infection can result in long-term physical damage, and many patients report changes in their behavior and mental health as well, especially if they have carried Lyme for a long time unknowingly. When a tick bite goes untreated, the body suffers from the symptoms of Lyme disease without the additional help of antibiotics.
Lyme Disease: Signs & Symptoms
Lyme disease can be broken down into two distinct phases: acute Lyme disease and chronic Lyme disease.When a person is initially bitten by a tick carrying Lyme, their body enters the initial stages of the disease – the acute period. As the name suggests, this is when the body begins to react to the immediate bite. Symptoms include the commonly experienced bullseye rash: a red mark where the tick has embedded itself into the person’s skin, surrounded by several red, progressively larger circles around the bite. The medical term for this is Erythema Migrans Rash, and it occurs in 70-80% of patients.
Chronic Lyme disease is characterized by patients feeling effects of Lyme long after medicine can explain why. The bacteria may have been purged from the body with antibiotics, yet patients with chronic Lyme still experience symptoms such as trouble with memory, difficulty speaking, joint pain, fatigue, and mental health disturbances like anxiety and depression, which some hypothesize could be a result of managing a long-term disturbance in physical health without appropriate support. Because the actual Lyme bacteria in many cases is no longer traceable in the body, chronic Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose and track.
Lyme Disease and the Lymphatic System
Your lymphatic system is an essential part of your immune system. It helps produce the cells that make your immune system strong enough to fight illnesses off, and also regulates things like the removal of excess fluid from your body and the transportation of fat around the bloodstream. When the lymphatic system is under stress, the physical results are occurrences such as bloating, skin problems, and the swelling of the lymph nodes themselves, found in the neck, collarbone, underarms and groin. If your next question is: are swollen lymph nodes a symptom of Lyme disease? – well, you’d be smart to ask. Read on to find out.
2 Ways Lyme Disease Can Damage the Lymphatic System
1. Lyme disease suppresses the immune system
Any infection will cause your body’s immune system to be on high alert. And that’s OK, because that’s what the immune system is for! The problem arises when people with Lyme start to enter the chronic, long-term phase that some patients report experiencing. Because the battle with Lyme is prolonged over months or even years, your lymphatic system, an essential component of your immune system, understandably gets tired. This begins a vicious cycle, since immunosuppressed people are more susceptible to contracting other illnesses because their system isn’t strong enough to fight off everyday bugs as a result of running on overdrive.
2. Lyme disease can live in your lymph nodes, causing swelling
Lymphoadenopathy during Lyme Borreliosis is a correlation that doctors are still exploring in depth. Simply put, Lymphoadenopathy is the swelling of the lymph nodes. Lyme Borreliosis is the scientific term for Lyme disease, and so the phrase demarcates the tendency for the lymph nodes to swell when a person has contracted Lyme. Studies show that Lyme actually makes a home for itself in a person’s lymph nodes, which triggers an immune reaction, sending the immune system into attack mode to protect the body and commonly leading to swelling.
Often called The Great Imitator, Lyme disease doesn’t stop here when it comes to inciting reactions from the body that are difficult to attribute specifically to Lyme (after all, most infections cause our immune systems to kick into gear). As researchers at University of California, Davis, report: “B. burgdorferi [Lyme] have apparently struck an intricate balance that allows the bacteria to both provoke and elude the animal’s immune response.” It is this cycle of triggering an immune response but not being eradicated, only to trigger the response again, that might explain why some people’s Lyme disease becomes a chronic illness.
What to do if you think you’ve contracted Lyme disease
If you think you’ve contracted Lyme disease, it’s essential to consult a medical professional right away. Because chronic Lyme is difficult to diagnose, it is important to make sure that the physician you choose is Lyme-literate – that is, that they are familiar with The Great Imitator, and are open to working with you based on the symptoms that you report to explore all the treatment options possible.