Recognizing Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is an inflammatory disease caused by various strains of the borrelia bacteria. It is most commonly transmitted to humans and animals through tick bites. People dealing with this condition often experience the burden of not only a destructive and debilitating
disease, but a confused and inconsistent response from the medical community, leaving many to fend for themselves in their quest for wellness.
There are three stages of infection, each with their own symptoms or expressions.
Early localized infection: This stage occurs up to a month after the bite. It is the best time to treat to obtain optimal outcomes because the offending bacteria may not have had time to disperse throughout the body yet, wreaking havoc. Symptoms during this stage of infection may include a bullseye rash (erythema migrans) at the bite site, fever, chills, headache, swollen lymph nodes, night sweats, fatigue, and muscle and joint pain.
The type of symptoms that emerge at this stage can easily be mistaken for a cold or flu, and because of that many people refrain from seeking help until the disease progresses. Dangerous larval and nymph-stage ticks are incredibly small and inconspicuous, and adults aren’t much bigger. Ticks often excrete an anesthetic-like substance present in their saliva, numbing the bite site, making their presence even less noticeable. Without a doubt, countless people who contract Lyme and other vector-borne diseases will have no idea they are at risk, let alone have already been bitten. It is often the case that the illness presents before a person has any idea they’ve even encountered a tick.
As unpleasant as it may be, it can be beneficial to keep the tick after removal. If you decide to do this you will need place the tick in a sealable container, like this one included in our AtlanTick Tick Kit. You can add alcohol to the container to submerge and kill the tick, while allowing it to remain intact. Once safely contained you can use the saved tick to identify the species, and the potential risks associated with it. We strongly urge you to be sure the the tick is dead before disposing of it.
It is important to note that the incidence of bullseye rash reported by people who have contracted Lyme disease ranges anywhere between 27-80%, depending on the source of information. This 2014 study reports less than 40% of patients with confirmed Lyme disease as having experienced a bullseye rash, whereas the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports these rates to be 70-80%, indicating its’ use as a primary, definitive diagnostic feature of the disease.
Early disseminated Infection: This is still considered an early stage of infection, up to three months after transmission, but now the borrelia bacteria have had time to spread throughout the body, impacting joints, deep tissue and organs. Symptoms at this stage may still include overwhelming fatigue, weakness, and muscle and joint pain, but may have evolved to include other skin problems such as rashes and lesions, complications of the heart including blockages, arrhythmias, myopericarditis and myocardial dysfunction, neurological symptoms including encephalopathy, facial nerve palsy, and aseptic meningitis, nerve problems causing weakness, numbness, poor muscle control, pain, loss of sensation to multiple parts of the body, and sensory dysfunction, cognitive decline and difficulties sometimes mimicking dementia, inflammation of the eye causing pain, irritation, itchiness, burning, light sensitivity and blurred vision, hepatitis, and an enlarged spleen.
The symptoms that emerge at this stage of infection can lead to very serious complications, including death. Unfortunately, because so many people don’t recall a tick bite or bullseye rash, and the symptoms of this disease are so varied, doctors who are unfamiliar with the expressions of Lyme disease, or those following outdated or restrictive treatment guidelines may fail to recognize the underlying cause of the patients’ complaints. If you suspect you might be dealing with Lyme or another tick-borne disease you will be best served by finding a Lyme literate MD (LLMD) or Lyme literate naturopath (LLND).
Late-Stage Infection: Sadly, this is a stage of infection too many people find themselves in. Three months or more after initial infection the ramifications of this disease can lead to months and years of illness, lifelong ailments, and even death. Conditions resulting from this stage of infection may include any of those present in early disseminated infection but with chronic expressions, including arthritis, build up of fluid throughout the body including on joints, the spinal cord, brain and heart, encephalopathy, poor cognitive function, memory, speech and motor impairment, malfunction of the peripheral nerves throughout the body causing pain and sensory impairment, gastrointestinal disturbances, odd skin sensations with no obvious cause, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, white matter disease including lesions, depression and anxiety, and major organ damage.
People who reach this stage of infection often have no idea why they feel so awful, and may seek treatment for each ailment separately. As with the earlier stage of infection, it often takes a proper Lyme disease specialist to be able to recognize and assess the bigger picture, connecting the dots between what may appear to be a random series of complaints.
Without help from an experienced, Lyme-literate medical specialist, countless people infected with this and other vector-borne diseases tend to experience continually declining health while feeling as though their suffering is being diminished and dismissed by those from whom they seek care. There are certainly treatment options for people in this late stage of the disease and recovery is absolutely possible for many, but due to intense controversy regarding testing practices and diagnostic requirements, the wait for proper treatment may take years, or even a lifetime.
Chronic Lyme Disease, or Post Treatment Lyme Disease: The controversy surrounding the terms used to describe the effects of untreated or treated and persistent Lyme disease detracts immensely from people’s ability to receive proper treatment. At this stage of infection people’s general quality of life is reported as being substantially poor, and when compared to other serious chronic and/or life-altering diseases, generally even poorer.
During this stage of infection, people report experiencing extreme, debilitating fatigue, arthritis, facial palsy, general and migrating body pain, tingling, numbness, and burning, anxiety, depression and other mental health difficulties and challenges, numerous eye problems including double or blurred vision, light sensitivity, burning and pain, sleep disturbances, food and chemical allergies or sensitivities, loss of hearing, sexual dysfunction, problems with motor function and balance, dementia, heart, brain and lung dysfunction, and more.
It is possible to receive treatment and achieve optimal results at this stage, though many people have lingering symptoms that cease to resolve entirely. Many people in this stage of infection have seriously compromised immune systems which must also be addressed and supported in order to move toward wellness, if not recovery. Additionally, if the person has also acquired co-infections (ticks carry approximately 20 different pathogens in this part of the world) their treatment will inevitably become more complicated and will need to be both individualized and multi-faceted.
The good news: Lyme disease is entirely preventable. At AtlanTick, we love the outdoors. This beautiful land that we have the great privilege to live on is tied to our hearts, our heritage, our identities. We cannot allow the threat of tick-borne diseases to keep us from getting outside, exploring, adventuring, living, thriving.