Lyme Disease: a cause of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and arthritis
By Nicola McFadzean, N.D.
Lyme disease was once thought of as an obscure disease that only affected people living in the northeast. Increasingly, however, Lyme disease is showing itself to be more prevalent than ever, and more widespread throughout the country, and indeed the world.
The number of Lyme disease cases is difficult to estimate because of both unreported and undiagnosed cases. The number of reported cases exceeds 20,000 per year, and climbing sharply, while the estimate of actual cases is approximately 100,000 per year.
The primary organism behind Lyme disease is a spirochete called Borrelia burgdorferi. A spirochete is a type of bacteria that is long, slender, and assumes a spiral shape. Tick bites are one of the more common routes of transmission; however, more recent research has shown that mosquitoes can transmit the Borrelia spirochetes. Lyme frequently appears in multiple members of the family but can present differently. For example, a child has autism, while his mother has fibromyalgia. Both may test positive for Lyme disease.
In its early stage, Lyme disease may be a mild illness with flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, and joint pain. Symptoms appear within 7 to 10 days following an infected tick’s bite. Many people bitten by an infected tick develop a large, expanding skin rash around the area of the bite. The rash may feel hot to the touch, but is usually not painful. Rashes vary in size, shape, and color, but often have a “bull’s eye” appearance (a red ring with a clear center).
This characteristic acute phase is relatively easy to diagnose. Unfortunately, most people with chronic Lyme disease have no recollection of a tick bite, no history of a rash, and no idea how they may have become infected. They may have many of the symptoms of chronic Lyme, such as chronic fatigue, arthritic pain and neurological symptoms such as memory loss or brain fog, but because those symptoms may also be caused by many other conditions, they may never have been assessed for Lyme.
So how does one know if a person has Lyme disease? If an individual has any chronic health condition, ranging from arthritis to chronic fatigue syndrome to fibromyalgia, it is important to rule out Lyme disease. Many Lyme patients were firstly diagnosed with other illnesses such as juvenile arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis, infectious arthritis, osteoarthritis, Fibromyalgia, Raynaud’s syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, interstitial cystitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, fifth disease, multiple sclerosis, scleroderma, lupus, early ALS, early Alzheimers Disease, crohn’s disease, ménières syndrome, reynaud’s syndrome, sjogren’s syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, prostatitis, psychiatric disorders (bipolar, depression, etc.), encephalitis, sleep disorders, thyroid disease and various other illnesses.
Testing for Lyme disease has its own challenges, as Lyme tests will often show up with “false negatives” or negative results even when Lyme is present. To maximize the effectiveness of the tests, it helps to run a panel with different types of ways of looking for Lyme; for example, one test that looks for an immune reaction with another test that looks for DNA evidence of the bug. Also, “challenging” with a few weeks of antibiotic therapy or an herbal antimicrobial such as Samento can help boost the immune response to Lyme, thus allowing for a more productive test result (the Lyme spirochetes disable the immune system, and this is one of the reasons the tests may show up negative. Using a remedy which has anti-spirochete and immune-stimulating properties overcomes this problem). Finally, use only a specialist Lyme lab such as IGeneX, as they have the most advanced techniques for finding B. burgdorferi as well as other co-infections.
There are three paths of treatment for chronic Lyme disease. The first is to do a short course of antibiotics. More conservative practitioners would argue that this is sufficient to address the spirochete infection. My opinion, and that of the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society (ILADS) is that short-term antibiotics may address an acute B. burgdorferi infection, but will not be sufficient to address chronic Lyme disease.
The second option is to use long term, multiple courses of antibiotics. This can be arduous and create some side effects, but is often necessary to treat the infection and give relief from severe symptoms. The two major drawbacks of this approach are (1) the “Herxheimer reaction”, which is a detox-type reaction that may occur during initial phases of treatment. As the spirochetes are killed off and expelled from the body, they can create a worsening of symptoms. (2) the side effects of the medications. One of the most notable secondary effects of such longer term antibiotic regimens is yeast overgrowth in the gut. Preventive measures must be taken to minimize the chance of this. For many chronic Lyme patients, long term antibiotics represent the most promising path to relief of symptoms.
The third option for treatment is to use natural remedies only. There are protocols using antimicrobial herbs that have been used quite successfully for chronic Lyme disease. The “Herxheimer” reactions are still possible, but some of the other side effects of antibiotics may be avoided. Immune support, detoxification, nutritional therapy and lifestyle counseling are all important parts of natural treatment protocols, and should be considered as adjunct therapies even when antibiotic regimens are prescribed.
Many individuals with chronic Lyme disease have other health issues that must be addressed alongside treating the spirochete itself. Among these issues are mold toxicity, parasite infections in the gut, heavy metal toxicity and hormone imbalance. Natural remedies can be used effectively to address the majority of those issues.
Chronic Lyme sufferers also frequently house “co-infections” such as Erlichia, Bartonella and Babesia. These are different types of “bugs” that enjoy the company of B. burgdorferi. Each infection must be addressed in the treatment protocol.
Clearly chronic Lyme disease is a complex and multi-faceted health problem. It is apparent that many cases of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are actually Lyme disease in disguise. If you are suspicious that you or a patient might have Lyme disease, the first step is to undergo evaluation and testing. If a person’s health issues are caused by B. burgdorferi, then only treatment for Lyme disease will give true lasting relief.
Nicola McFadzean, N.D.
1111 Fort Stockton Drive, Suite H, San Diego CA 92103
Phone: 619 546 4065 (w) 858 449 4976 ©
Fax: 619 270 2582
Dr. Nicola McFadzean is the founder and owner of RestorMedicine in San Diego, CA.
Originally trained as a nutritionist and traditional naturopath in her native country of Australia, she later went on to complete her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. Dr. McFadzean is a Lyme-literate Naturopathic Doctor, and combines conventional and integrative approaches to treat tick-borne illnesses.
Dr. McFadzean is a member of the International Lyme and Associated Disease Assocation (ILADS) and has completed the ILADS Training Program under the mentorship of Dr. Steven Harris. She is also affiliated with Dr. Yang’s Family Care in Santee, CA.
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