By Pamela Dodd
Lyme disease is a tricky bacterial infection, especially if you’ve had it for a long time without knowing it.
Early Lyme can produce a bull’s eye rash and flu-like symptoms a week or two after an infected tick bite. Treatment with up to 4 weeks of antibiotics may knock it out.
But many people who get treatment still end up with late stage (chronic) Lyme months or even years after, when it becomes far more debilitating. And many people with chronic Lyme never remember being bitten by a tick and having early Lyme Disease symptoms.
My Lyme was diagnosed four years ago when my regular doctor took on a new associate. He sent her a few “challenging” cases, including me because of my disabled left hand, a sudden casualty that began one wintry day in 1983 when I tried to put on a glove and couldn’t move my thumb. Multiple medical specialists couldn’t determine what caused it, including a neurologist who put me in the hospital for a week for tests.
Lucky for me I stopped going to doctors about my hand, accepting the fact that I’d be disabled for the rest of my life.
I say lucky because many people who don’t know they have Lyme spend much time, energy, and money going from doctor to doctor trying to get help for chronic health problems. Few are tested for Lyme. Of those that are, many are told they don’t have Lyme due to the unreliability of standard Lyme tests and most doctors’ inexperience diagnosing it clinically.
Lyme is a tricky diagnosis for a number of reasons. First, it mimics over 350 other diseases, including MS, Parkinson’s, Lupus, and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Lyme can affect every body system. Second, no two Lyme patients have exactly the same symptoms. Third, Lyme likes to migrate. One week it’s achy joints. The next it may be headaches, heart palpitations, or sore ribs.
Another tricky issue is co-infections like Babesia, Bartonella, and Ehrlichia that commonly come with Lyme. It’s impossible to get rid of Lyme until the co-infections are also treated. But many people who are diagnosed with Lyme aren’t tested for co-infections.
Lastly, Lyme treatment isn’t easy. While antibiotics do kill Lyme and the co-infections, there are always problems of bacterial resistance and individual adverse drug reactions. The Lyme bacterium is brilliant at evading threats. No one should expect to get well quickly from chronic Lyme.
So how do you know if you have Lyme? Looking back to my late teens, I had signs that were probably Lyme. No one until four years ago ever connected them.
Here’s a few:
Brain fog/poor memory
Lack of verbal fluency
Fatigue/lack of energy
Joint aches, pains, or stiffness
Numbness or tingling in the face, arms, or legs
If you don’t remember a tick bite but have had any of these symptoms for some time and they haven’t resolved on their own or with medical treatment, it might be a good idea to find a doctor who treats Lyme to get tested for it.
Lyme seems to be more prevalent worldwide than the traditional medical establishment either knows or is wiling to acknowledge publicly. As more people, including whole families, are being diagnosed with Lyme, a good maxim to follow is “When in doubt, rule Lyme out.”