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Tick on a flower petal

Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease

by Alexander Alvarez , MD. Physician
June 2, 2022
Tick on a flower petal

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) receive approximately 30,000 official reports of Lyme disease annually, but recent CDC estimates suggest that approximately 476,000 individuals develop Lyme disease each year in the U.S. It’s imperative that people recognize the early signs and symptoms to avoid long-term effects, which can be debilitating.

 

What Causes Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a relatively modern affliction. It was first identified in the U.S. in 1975, in the town of Lyme, Connecticut. Since its discovery, scientists have performed numerous studies to understand the disease better, how it’s transmitted, and its biological impact on the human body.

Lyme is most commonly spread by deer ticks primarily found in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and Northwest. Deer ticks are also known as black-legged ticks, Ixodes scapularis, or Ixodes pacificus. These ticks are very small, making them troublesome to see. Some are as tiny as a poppy seed.

These ticks carry the Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which is a spirochete—a highly invasive bacterium. Bacteria quickly move through the skin and break into and out of blood vessels. The Lyme bacteria can even cross the blood-brain barrier. These bacteria are also difficult to kill—especially if left untreated in the very early stages of the infection.

bacteria Borrelia Burgdoferi - Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease in Three Stages

There are three main stages of Lyme disease, and each has its own signs and symptoms. Initially, Lyme can manifest itself as a rash known as erythema migrans (EM). The rash expands over time, after the tick bite, sometimes reaching12 inches or more across. It may feel warm to the touch but is rarely painful or itchy. Sometimes, the rash clears in the middle and resembles a bullseye. However, not everyone who is infected exhibits this bullseye indication. Acute signs like EM are key in identifying Lyme because it’s estimated that only about 17% of people recall being bitten by a tick. 

Timing is crucial in this acute stage of infection, regardless of whether the individual develops a rash. When a person can identify a tick bite, clean the site right away with antibacterial soap and water, and notify their primary care provider, they may be able to cure the infection in 10-12 days.

Lyme progresses to the subacute stage when an infection goes unnoticed and thus untreated. Individuals may experience flu-like symptoms such as headaches, fever, and chills.

As time goes on, symptoms worsen into joint pain, swelling and other bodily aches, similar to arthritis. By this stage, people are in the “danger zone” of chronic Lyme disease. 

Lyme can cause cardiac dysrhythmias, a condition in which the heart is not beating correctly. Cardiac dysrhythmia can eventually cause the heart to fail. Some Lyme patients may need a pacemaker to regulate their heart’s rhythm. 

Because the Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, crosses the blood-brain barrier, neurological symptoms may result, such as: 

  • Confusion
  • Brain fog
  • Facial paralysis or drooping
  • Severe head pain
  • Visual disturbances
  • Neck stiffness
  • Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones 
  • Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Nerve pain
  • Numbness, tingling, or shooting pain in the hands or feet

Some individuals even report having an “out of body” experience, feeling they are in one place when they’re not, similar to a hallucination.

black legged tick in labratory

Testing for Lyme Disease

Chronic Lyme is difficult to identify and adequately treat because no definitive diagnostic test exists. Most Lyme disease tests are designed to detect antibodies created as the body responds to the infection. But antibodies can take several weeks to develop, meaning that patients may test negative in the early stages of infection.

Specific immunological markers may reveal reason for concern via blood testing, but these markers also might indicate other types of infections—including other tick-borne diseases, viral, bacterial, or autoimmune diseases—all of which can result in false positive test results.

The most effective way to uncover Lyme is through a solid, thorough history, clinical examination, and a Lyme questionnaire. 

Treating Lyme Disease

Traditional treatment for Lyme disease includes antibiotics, antiviral, and antifungal protocols. Treatment is challenging because spirochetes are extremely intelligent. Many bacteria contain plasmids, which are small, circular DNA molecules that can make bacteria resistant to antibiotic treatment. With Lyme, this process becomes heightened. Research has shown that the Lyme disease Borrelia burgdorferi species presents the most complex plasmid structure among known bacteria.

Spirochetes are so smart and fast that they communicate with other spirochetes, telling them to change various factors such as pH or temperature or generate a new plasmid that will ultimately resist the treatment. 

When one antibiotic treatment doesn’t work, physicians may try as many as 20-30 different types. Unfortunately, this can perpetuate the resistance and induce long-lasting molecular changes to the body’s microbiome. The immediate physiological effects plague patients daily, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. Long-term antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease has been associated with serious, sometimes deadly, complications. 

Despite all these efforts, the spirochetes survive. Autopsy evidence reveals that spirochetes keep growing persistently, even after 15 years of antibiotic treatment. Given all the evidence, prescriptions may aid in alleviating some of the accompanying symptoms of Lyme, such as pain, depression, anxiety, and poor sleep, but they simply do not work effectively to eliminate the infection itself.

If Traditional Treatments Don’t Work, What Can Be Done?

Multiple research studies have shown the positive benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) in treating Lyme disease and its symptoms. The science behind this approach involves how spirochetes respond when exposed to oxygen: they die.

Individuals living with chronic Lyme disease who have undergone HBOT treatments and the Aviv Medical Program protocols report relief from symptoms like digestive distress, brain fog, joint pain, and overwhelming fatigue. Many have been able to return to the active lifestyle they have been missing for years. 

HBOT and the accompanying protocols of the Aviv Medical Program will be increasingly valuable in the coming years. Lyme is projected to become a severe epidemic in the next decade—particularly in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and Northwest. 

If you or a loved one suspects chronic Lyme disease is at the root of troubling health issues, contact us to learn more about the Aviv Medical Program and its role in providing relief for Lyme patients. 

Aviv Medical Program provides you with a unique opportunity to invest in your health while you age.

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