Lymes disease (LD) is growing in Scotland at an exponential rate and yet it is still very under diagnosed even in the highlands where there is now a very high incidence. I am seeing an increasing number of patients in my practice who are affected by chronic LD and are struggling to get the help that they need.
Because the initial symptoms can be very mild, people often don’t make the connection when months later the chronic condition sets in. Over time, the person begins to feel fatigue, in some case joint and muscle pain, impaired mental function, headaches, depression and other neurological symptoms. The condition can become very debilitating. In fact, most of the patients that I see never present with the classical symptoms at the time of the bite, but develop symptoms much later, making the diagnosis very complicated.
Typical symptoms of untreated Lymes:
- Sleep disturbance
- Memory loss
- Cognitive impairment
- Joint/muscle pains
Patients may also struggle to get a diagnosis as the testing can be extremely tricky and the laboratory tests that we have cannot entirely exclude LD. Because of this and because it isn’t simple to diagnose or treat, some GPs can be dismissive of the condition. The lack of a clear diagnosis can be very frustrating. Once a diagnosis is made we know that up to 80% of people will still have some symptoms after 4 weeks of antibiotic therapy, especially if treatment is started late. Out of everything that I see in my practice on a daily basis, this can be one of the most frustrating situations for patients.
LD is transmitted by ticks and in most cases there will be a very typical bull’s-eye rash after the bite but not in all cases. Only 25-30% of patients with Lyme disease remember a tick bite. Ticks are small and their bite is painless. I have many times seen patients test positive on serology tests who don’t even recall having been bitten. These are the cases where diagnosis can be very difficult to make.
I would have to say that LD is one of the most complex conditions that I treat in my clinic, but if done correctly, will have dramatic and lasting results.
One of the cases that really stands out is that of a 29 year old woman, Lisa. By the time I first saw her, she’d had a LD diagnosis for over two years even though her symptoms were there long before. Because she never had the typical bull’s eye rash it took a really long time to finally get the diagnosis.
She was struggling with joint pain, burning sensations, fatigue and memory loss. Walking had become increasingly difficult and she had to give up work. She had been on antibiotic therapy for 18 months which mostly kept the symptoms at bay, but every time she discontinued them, her symptoms would hit back hard within days. She was frustrated with the side-effects of the antibiotics and wanted a more natural approach. We went on a long journey of healing together as her condition was already so chronic, but last month she delivered a beautiful baby girl, was extremely well during her pregnancy and is now feeling 100% again.
Linda, a 32 year old accountant, came into our clinic with burning sensations and fatigue. She also started having headaches in the months prior and was at the point where she was considering giving up work as she was struggling so much. She remembered a bite about 4 months prior but also didn’t have the typical bull’s-eye rash. As her biofeedback scan showed high neurological activity, I sent off samples to the laboratory and her results showed that LD was present. We began treatment immediately and within two months she had improved significantly and now laughs when I remind her that she had nearly given up a career that she really loves.
There is a great deal of variability in how severe the symptoms may be. Some people have very mild symptoms; others have been completely crippled by it. Treatment can be very complex and individual, depending on the person’s underlying health issues but there are things that you can do to get a better treatment response.
What factors will influence the severity of the symptoms and the outcome of treatment?
- 1. Total body burden: our bodies are under strain every day in coping with environmental toxins, stress, underlying illness etc. The higher the body burden, the more symptomatic the person will be. In fact, this is the starting point when treating regardless of the severity of symptoms. I make sure that my LD patients are very aware of their body burden and how to reduce it. This also helps tremendously to the outcome of treatment.
- 2. Variations in the person’s genetic capacity to detoxify. Our genetic ability to detoxify and deal with infection will play a role in the course of the disease. If you have been dealt an unlucky hand in terms of detoxification, knowing how to optimise detoxification capacity can make or break treatment. Often if one starts on anti-infectives without doing so, you either get a just a temporary reduction of symptoms (like Lisa) or sometimes even a worsening of symptoms. If you are generally sensitive to medication, then your phase 2 detoxification pathways may be the best place to start treatment.
- 3. Co-infections: the Lymes infection creates suppression of the immune system leading to a whole range of co-infections that opportunistically thrive in the resulting change of immune environment. This must be taken into consideration as you are often not treating one organism in isolation. In my experience, once you identify Lymes it will usually not be the only organism that presents. The immune suppression often leads to a reactivation of past viral infections that will need treatment at the same time.
- 4. The way in which Lymes presents will also affect the treatment. For instance, if presentation is mainly in joints, hyaluronic acid can be very helpful in ‘teasing’ the microbes out of the joints and connective tissue. If the symptoms are more brain related, reducing neurotoxicity is critical.
Things you can do if you have suspected Lymes or have been diagnosed with LD
- 1. Reduce your body burden. This will help dramatically in improving treatment outcome.
- 2. Focus on detoxification. This helps the body cope not only with neurotoxins created by the organism but also the load added by treatment. This is critical if you are being treated by antibiotics, but even if your treatment is natural, improving detoxification pathways can help enormously.
- 3. Although there is a great deal of focus on antioxidants in improving immune function. One thing that most therapists agree on is that in the early stages of treatment, antioxidants should be avoided to prevent a worsening of symptoms.
- 4. A combination of acupuncture, biofeedback, herbal medicine can help resolve LD permanently but must be under the guidance of therapists who are experienced in working with LD. Treatments should focus on reducing neurotoxicity, strengthening the body’s capacity to detoxify, supporting the immune system and ultimately drawing the virus out of the system.
What should be the order of treatment?
The best success in treatment comes when we follow the following steps in this very specific order. Even though the temptation is often to begin with anti-microbials, one can have very limited effects, or even a worsening if the first two steps are not taken.
- Improve disturbed physiology
- Reduce body burden
- Reduce microbial count
- Repair the immune system
- Maintenance of immune function
Helpful Laboratory testing:
In addition to testing for Lymes, it can be extremely beneficial to send off samples to laboratory to look at toxic levels, co-infections, nutrient levels and the body’s ability to detoxify. Although diagnosing and treating LD can be tricky, if done correctly and systematically, one will achieve great results.
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