Lyme Disease Research Database
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Introduction to Lyme Disease
What is Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is a multi-system inflammatory disease that affects all the systems of the body, including the brain. Although every case is different, left untreated, Lyme disease can be devastating.
Causes and Risk Factors
The specific bacteria that causes Lyme is a spirochete called Borrelia burgdorferi, and it is believed to be primarily spread through the bite of a deer tick. Those who live near, or visit, densely forested areas are believed to be at higher risk of exposure to ticks, yet increasing medical evidence suggests that the bacteria can spread through other means.
Lyme Disease Symptoms
Lyme can cause fever, headaches, body aches, and crushing fatigue. Some patients develop a characteristic bull’s-eye skin rash at the location of the tick bite. Lyme can also affect the cardiac system and the brain, causing arrhythmia, vertigo, speech impairments such as stammering, and poor concentration. Palsy and facial paralysis are also symptoms of Lyme. It is not uncommon for patients to suffer mood swings, depression, and psychotic episodes such as hallucinations.
However, some people who have the disease do not develop symptoms immediately after being infected. It may take years to become symptomatic. Some who have been exposed may never develop Lyme disease symptoms. Further, is not yet known how long the bacteria may lie dormant.
Tests and Diagnosis
Currently, the recommended diagnostic tests for detecting Lyme disease are the Western Blot analysis, used to identify particular antibodies, and the ELISA, a general antibody test. Tests for the disease are unreliable. Negative clinical test results do not necessarily mean that the patient is free of Lyme or its co-infections. The bacteria appears to evade the body's immune system, as it is capable of changing into two, three or more shapes as it spreads throughout the body.
Unfortunately, it is common for people with Lyme to receive a misdiagnoses and thus remain untreated. The medical profession’s nickname for Lyme Disease is the Great Imitator, because symptoms mimic hundreds of other conditions including Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Epstein-Barr virus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics. However, there are two standards of care among the experts. The strength and length of prescription of antibiotics sits at the core of controversy in the medical community. Antibiotics given immediately after infection seem to work for most Lyme patients. During later stages of the disease, some patients have responded to extended courses of antibiotics, but extended courses are not sanctioned by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). On the other hand, current guidelines for treatment of Lyme published by the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) state that it is reasonable to continue antibiotic therapy, in some cases, beyond the arbitrary 30-day course recommended by the IDSA.
Experts familiar with the complicated nature of diagnosing Lyme Disease advise that if a person has had a tick bite, or exhibits symptoms characteristic of Lyme, they consult a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor (LLMD) and begin treatment, even if test results are negative or pending.