What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection usually transmitted via a tick bite. It can cause many varied symptoms throughout the body.
Lyme Disease Foundation - What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease Action UK - Lyme FAQ
What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease?
Symptoms include: abdominal pain, Bell's Palsy, arthritis, back pain, brain fog, headaches, migraines, dizziness, fatigue, bone pain, swollen glands, breathlessness, cold feet, difficulty concentrating, depression, fibromyalgia-type pains, fever, rash, flu-like symptoms, nausea, vertigo, forgetfulness, sensitivity to light & noise & smells, insomnia, muscle pain & weakness, joint problems, memory problems, palpitations, neck pain, paraesthesia, shivering/ chills, excessive sleep, throat pain, tooth pain, weight gain/ loss
Lyme Disease Action UK has a full list of Lyme symptoms:
Full Lyme disease symptom list
How is Lyme Disease diagnosed?
In some cases, a bullseye rash can be seen on the skin after a tick bite, this is indicative of Lyme infection and makes diagnosis easy. Estimates vary, but it is generally thought that up to 50% of cases do not develop a bullseye rash. In some cases flu-like symptoms develop quickly after a bite and this - along with having seen a tick - makes a Lyme diagnosis easier. In some cases, a tick bite is not seen (ticks numb the skin as they bite meaning it can't be felt) and symptoms might not develop until much later, or initial symptoms might be mistaken for a cold or flu. In these cases Lyme is much more difficult to diagnose. Blood tests are available, but they are recognised as producing many false-negatives. In its later, disseminated stages, Lyme may require a clinical diagnosis by an experienced Lyme doctor.
How is Lyme Disease treated?
Early Lyme is treated by one month of oral antibiotics. It is generally thought that catching the infection early and treating it in this way is effective. For late stage/ disseminated Lyme treatment is more complicated. Antibiotics are still used but may be required for long periods of time (months or even years) for the infection to be eradicated.
Lyme Disease Myths
There is a lot of misinformation circulating about Lyme disease. In the US, there is a lot of controversy around what is termed "chronic" Lyme. Personally, I prefer the "late stage/ disseminated" description as this is usually what people mean by "chronic". There is a lot of discussion over whether or not long term antibiotics are effective and the standard medical blurb is that if you are treated for 4 weeks with antibiotics and you don't recover then you don't have Lyme. (This is even in cases where people test positive for a Lyme infection after treatment - they say it indicates an old infection.) I don't know why this is the case. There are lots of conspiracy theories about why it might be, but who knows where the line actually lies between truth and conspiracy.
The fact is that many many Lyme patients - sharing their stories online - are recovering with long-term antibiotics. The Lyme bacterium is a spirochete and has been described as one of the most complicated bacterium ever studied. Tuberculosis is treated with 6 months to 2 years of antibiotics; acne is treated with long-term antibiotics therefore there is no reason why Lyme - as a complex bacterial infection - shouldn't respond to long-term antibiotic treatment.
However, because of the myths perpetuated by infectious disease "experts" in the US, it has become extremely difficult to get doctors (especially in areas where Lyme is not (thought to be) common and doctors do not have much experience in treating it) to prescribe antibiotics indefinitely. A LLMD (Lyme literate medical doctor) can be a life-line in these circumstances.
Other common myths:
A tick must be attached for over 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease
Lyme disease only exists in certain areas
(Lyme has been found throughout the UK, including in central London parks)
There are some Lyme researchers who go so far as to claim that anyone suffering with any chronic disease has Lyme as a component. I have no idea how true/ false this may be, but it is well documented that many people who are successfully treated for Lyme disease have spent a long time - many years in some cases - going from doctor to doctor and getting different diagnoses.
Lyme disease is becoming known as the 21st century "great imitator" (apparently in the 19th Century syphilis was known as the great imitator as it could cause all sorts of varied symptoms; syphilis is also a spirochetal bacterium). Diseases such as CFS/ ME; Lupus, ME, Rheumatoid Arthritis; MS; depression and many others have been documented as being Lyme misdiagnoses.
For people with a diagnosis of CFS who fit the pattern/ symptoms of Lyme it is very possible that they may have Lyme as a component of their illness, if it is not causing it entirely.