Lyme Disease and its common Co-Infections
If you are already familiar with Lyme Disease and its common co-infections and symptoms, skip ahead to our 10 step approach for the natural treatment of Lyme. Otherwise read further to review the common infections and the mostcommonly reported symptoms.
The infection Borrelia Burgdorferi, also known as Lyme disease, was once thought to isolate to the northeastern portion of the United States. It is now known to have spread, and has been diagnosed in the southwestern states, and is now epidemic in parts of Europe and China.The testing and eventual diagnosis of Lyme disease is not a straightforward or simple task. Symptom presentations amongst patients are extremely varied, and the common western blot test and IFA test are frequently falsely negative. The inconsistencies are partly related to the tricky nature of Lyme bacteria, which can hide out in different tissues, with the immune system failing to produce detectable antibodies at the time of testing. Despite these significant testing concerns, we choose laboratories that provide the most consistenly reliable data possible until more advanced testing comes to market. The most reliable test we use at EVND is the IgM Western Blot and the IgG Immunoblot, which tests for the most common species, Borrelia burgdorferi. There are other Borrelia species found through the world that are starting to become more prevalent in the United States, demanding expansion of testing additional organisms, if the initial Western or Immunoblot returns negative. To help in the diagnosis and raise appropriate suspicion, we often have our patients complete the Horowitz Lyme Symptom Checklist, as it has been found in research to correlate with those who do actually test positive for Lyme disease. In addition to Lyme, a portion of patients may also be diagnosed and treated for one of the more common coinfections which inlcude Babesia, Bartonella, Anaplasma, or Ehrlichia.
Lyme has been a disease of great mystery due to the multiple forms and locations it may hide within the human body. Its effects are wide-ranging, from systemic and neuropathic pain, autonomic disorders, to central nervous system effects such “brain fog”, panic attacks, fatigue, and anxiety. It has thus been labeled as the” great imitator.” Adding to the confusion and difficulty of diagnosing Lyme disease is the lack of communication between different specialties whose focus on seperate body systems are unable to connect all of the dots. The isolation of specialties and even symptoms is a leading reason that modern medicine has failed to recognize and treat Lyme disease.
The inability to accurately assess and determine the degree of Lyme effects on a single individual, has led to great confusion, even among prominent researchers and clinicians, in how best to treat the disease. Although testing accuracy has improved, Lyme disease is complicated significantly by other immune influencing factors that have, in recent years, just come to light. For example, we now know that ticks, mice, and even mosquitoes are found to carry Lyme disease. In addition, many other infectious agents are co-inhabiting and are passed simultaneously with Lyme disease. These infections include other bacteria, viruses, and even parasites.
Therefore we have two types of Lyme-infected patients presenting in our East Valley Naturopathic Doctors Clinic. Lyme can cause acute symptoms, as can many other infectious agents such as bacteria, virus, parasites, and fungi or yeast. These patients present with new-onset symptoms within days, weeks, and perhaps a few months of exposure to Lyme disease. The other group of patients, we most often diagnose and treat, have been infected sometime in the past. They may have had some degree of acute symptoms, but they were not sufficient to seek medical help or were misdiagnosed as a mild respiratory infection or Influenza virus. More than 50% of Lyme patients do not recall seeing a bulls-eye rash distinct to acute infections. What can complicate this picture, even more, is that an old infection might have lain dormant for decades, only to be awakened or intensified by a new exposure to stress, mold toxins, and viral or bacterial infections.
The most common form of Lyme has been Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato complex, however there are over 2 dozen species of borrelia that have been discovered at this time. Prevalence of ticks were predominantly in the Northeast and Upper midwest but have been migrating and now found in 43 confirmed states. The CDC estimates more than 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme each year. Lyme can be injected into the body by a bite of an infected Blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), through blood transfusions, and even through an infected mother who can unknowingly pass it to her child in utero.
The following are just some of the common symptoms that can be associated with a chronic Lyme infection:
- Cognitive dysfunction, meaning poor memory, severe brain fog
- Headaches and neck stiffness
- Migratory muscle and joint pain
- Neuropathic symptoms: nerve pain, numbness, hot/cold sensations, tingling
- Depression and anxiety
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Palpitations, chest pain or shortness of breath
The following are just some of the common symptoms that can be associated with the most common Bartonella species, Bartonella henselae and Bartonella quintana:
- Day sweats
- Anxiety, severe depression
- Pain: Muscle, joint, headaches, soles of the feet
- Severe cognitive dysfunction
- Swollen lymph nodes: cervical, axillary
- Skin: Striae, acne
- Neurologic symptoms of numbness or sharp, shooting or burning pain, abdominal pain
- Bladder symptoms of pain, urgency or burning, IC
- GI: GERD, diarrhea, constipation
- Fever of unknown origin
Bartonella henselae transmission is often from a cat scratch or bite, tick, fleas, sand fly bites or mosquitoes, vertical transmission (Passing infection from mother to baby during pregnancy), and transfusions. Bartonella quintana transmission is often from body lice, ticks, or fleas.
The following are just some of the common symptoms that can be associated with the most common Babesia species, Babesia microti and Babesia duncani:
- Temperature dysregulation (extreme sweating that can alternate with chills)
- Night sweats especially
- Poor cognition
- Depression and anxiety
- Air hunger
- Dysautonomia: POTS, irregular heart racing
- Chest pain
It is also very likely, as will be explained in the 10 step program, that a combination of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and even parasites, having been previously kept in check but, due to reasons still too complex for immunology to understand, have become reactivated. One example is the patient who has a history of Mononucleosis or Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Epstein -Barr virus causes both mental and physical fatigue, aggravating even mood, and is often confused by many physicians as depression. It might have lain dormant for years, but now with immune suppression from Lyme disease it can reactivate. This has led to the conclusion that many patients with Lyme disease are in effect, co-infected with other viral, fungal, parasitic, and bacterial infections. We know because we have tested for them. We find in many cases the most severely affected and most difficult patients to treat, have a combination of all the various toxins and infections, with the average being between 3-5 infections. A Lyme disease treatment program focused only on one area of possible infections or toxin induced disease may have some benefit, but will be limited in its total ability to eradicate all symptoms.
Historically and currently the treatment of Lyme disease has required the use of antibiotics. The type, dosing schedule, and duration of antibiotics are dependent on the length and type of symptoms present as well as the co-infections, whether from a new or previous exposure. The use of antibiotics produces its own side effects, such as yeast overgrowth, that is part of the underlying problem, and need to be treated and minimized while on long-term antibiotic therapy. Effective Lyme treatment often requires effective co-treatment of yeast and candida species overgrowth.
Depending on the duration of a patient’s symptoms, other bodily systems that support energy, mood, and Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) pathways are often affected. Patients often report that though their recovery is much improved, they rarely feel as good as they did before they became ill. We find that other systems, such as the endocrine and neurotransmitter systems (part of the ANS), have to be restored to their optimal function. This requires not just treating all realized and unrealized infections, but evaluating and treating nutrient, hormone, and neurotransmitter deficiencies, which occur as a result of the body’s attempt to function, while being attacked by serious infectious diseases over months and often decades.
The diagnostic workup of chronic Lyme and other infectious agents requires reviewing every functioning system in the body including the immune, endocrine, and the neurotransmitter or stress response systems. With good evaluation and treatment protocols, we can eradicate Lyme and other infectious agents, restore optimal functioning of energy and stress response, improve mood, and calm pain pathways, all of which leads toward a full recovery.
Lyme disease persists as a controversial infection due to its complexity of diagnosis and difficulty in eradication of seemingly persistent symptoms. In addition, even with the CDC’s recent admission that diagnosed Lyme disease cases exceed 300,000 annually, most primary care doctors deny its existence or are reluctant to support patients who desire to be tested. Even if patients are evaluated, many physicians refuse to treat, or offer the standard prescription of the antibiotic doxycycline, which offers very little benefit to the chronically infected.
Treatment is not likely to occur if testing is not done or fails to be sensitive enough to expose antibodies to Borrelia. Diagnosis must sometimes be made by ruling out all other possibilities associated with the patients symptoms and through a comprehensive lab set that includes immune function and possible coinfections and or mold exposures.
Some of the steps listed below may have already been completed by you prior to your diagnosis of Lyme disease, and thus may not need to be in your current program. We want you to feel comfortable with the complexity of the different prescriptions, herbs and protocols, and why we recommend them. Not all protocols are required to be completed at once, but can be divided over time and prioritized toward your individual concerns and abilities.
With recent updates in genetics, including lab testing of Lyme, coinfections, and mold, we feel we have one of the most comprehensive and effective Lyme treatment protocols in current use today. After 15 years of developing protocols and trying and discovering newer and more effective Lyme and coinfection treatments, we recommend the following 10 step program for optimal eradication and recovery from Lyme disease and co-infections.