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Lyme Disease: Its Long-term Effects and Why It Keeps Coming Back

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You’ve probably heard about Lyme disease through various channels and sources. After all, it made a buzz considering several celebrities contracted the infection over the years.  

But Lyme disease is not simply a condition for the famous. 

In the US, it is considered the most prevalent disease transmitted via vectors. According to the CDC, an estimated 300,000 people acquire the infection annually. 

Lyme disease is an infection commonly caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. You can develop the condition if you are bitten by an infected black-legged tick – the vector of the causative bacterium. 

Symptoms of Lyme disease are considered to be nonfatal. Likewise, the infection can be treated primarily by antibiotics.

However, if left untreated and by extension undiagnosed, Lyme disease can escalate into a chronic condition that brings more than just discomfort. Plus, the chances of life-threatening consequences increases. 

Learn more about the health effects of Lyme disease and why it sustains the probability of recurring in the next few lines. 

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection brought about by the spiral-shaped bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. On rare occasions, Borrelia mayonii can also cause the condition. 

However, these bacteria can only be transmitted to humans through one vector: the tick. 

The condition was first identified in 1975. And if you’re wondering where its name originated, then you’d be interested to know that it was taken from the place where the infection was first identified – Lyme, Connecticut. 

You can contract Lyme disease anywhere in the US. But it is more prevalent in Upper Midwest, Northeast, and Northwestern States. 

Likewise, infected ticks are around all year long, but the tick season is between April and October. 

Cause

Lyme disease can occur if the causative bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi enters your system with the help of a tick vector. 

But it’s not simply any tick commonly found anywhere else. Lyme disease is typically acquired once you are bitten by an infected black-legged or deer tick. 

Deer ticks are called what they are because they are often found leaching on deers. With that, there were few misconceptions on how the bacteria are transmitted to humans.

One of these misbeliefs largely involved the role of deers in getting the infection. Some people believe that eating venison can cause Lyme disease. 

At the same time, others are firm in their understanding that getting bitten by deers can guarantee an infection. 

With that, several people are advocating for the eradication of deers. 

But Dr. Tamara Awerbuch of the Harvard School of Public Health pointed out the deers are not carriers of the bacteria per se. Sure, they play a critical role in ensuring the life cycle of the bacteria, but they do not directly transfer the bacteria to humans.

In fact, if we’re talking about the origin or source of the bacteria, deer ticks commonly harbor the disease-causing microbes in mice and rodents. But not from the deers. 

Nonetheless, if you get near a deer, you increase your chances of getting exposed to infected ticks. And if a carrier indeed bites you, you will be experiencing different sets of symptoms depending on how long it has been since you were infected. 

Early Signs and Symptoms

  • Erythema migrans (EM) rash
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain 
  • Headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Body aches 
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Later Signs and Symptoms

  • Dizziness 
  • Nerve pain
  • More EM rashes
  • Severe joint pain
  • Severe headaches 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Neurological problems
  • Temporary facial paralysis 
  • Tingling and numbing in the hands and feet

Diagnosis

Lyme disease can be diagnosed using two methods:

  1. Antibody Blood Test

This test often uses Western blot or immunoblot to identify antibodies linked to Lyme disease. 

You can order and arrange an antibody blood test focusing on Lyme disease diagnosis online. 

Check out Personalab’s Lyme Disease Antibodies, Immunoblot Blood Test and 

Lyme Disease Ab with Reflex to Blot Blood Test.

  1. Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test

ELISA test follows the same principle as that of the immunoblot test. It also detects antibodies associated with Borrelia burgdorferi. 

However, because the test is prone to producing false-positive results, it is typically paired with the aforementioned blood tests. 

What Organs Are Affected by Lyme Disease?

If you have Lyme disease, the condition can affect any organ in your body. However, it primarily affects your skin, brain, nerves, joints, muscles, heart, and lymph nodes.

Once the infection sets in, the immune system feels the impact first. The bacteria weakens the immune response affecting the leukocytes or the immune cells. 

Moreover, a 2020 published study by researchers from John Hopkins Lyme Disease Clinical showed that Lyme disease could trigger an autoimmune condition. 

Their research uncovered the ability of the bacteria to evade targeting by the dendritic cells. As a result, instead of attacking the bacteria, the immune cells now attack the healthy cells, which prompt an autoimmune condition. 

This affects the lymph nodes as they are responsible for producing immune cells. 

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease may seem like a simple infection. However, more and more studies are providing insights into the long-term effects of Lyme disease. 

Here are the most notable continuing effects of Lyme disease:

  1. Bell’s Palsy

Facial nerves can be affected by Lyme disease. The infection may cause inflammation on these nerves. 

With that, it could lead to a condition called Bell’s palsy, where the facial muscle begins to weaken or be paralyzed. Again, it could be episodic or temporary. But in some cases, it disappears only after a long time. 

People experiencing Bell’s palsy often feel pain, discomfort, and weakness on one side of their face or head.  

  1. Heart Problems

Lyme disease can get to your heart as the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi can enter the tissues of the heart. When this occurs, a condition called Lyme carditis unfolds. 

Lyme carditis causes an interruption in the electrical signaling of the heart chambers. This results in arrhythmia or heart block. 

Although Lyme carditis is rare and can be treated with antibiotics, it is potentially fatal. Likewise, it can lead to long-term complications. Some patients even have to wear pacemakers.  

  1. Sleep Disorders

Insomnia and sleep disturbances can occur especially when the bacteria causing Lyme disease reaches the brain. Moreover, it also induces hallucinogenic dreams. 

Also, the experience of pain and fatigue brought about by Lyme disease contributes to the poor sleep quality you can get from Lyme disease. 

  1. Depression

When the brain is affected by Lyme disease, it can trigger some psychological problems. As the infection extends to the brain mass, it leads to inflammation that affects the patient’s mental health. 

In fact, there have been documented cases of higher risks for suicidal thoughts with patients diagnosed with Lyme disease. They also have about 75% higher risks of death by suicide, and 42% increased chances of developing depression and bipolar disorder. 

Unfortunately, some of these conditions can even appear after treatment. This condition is referred to as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS) or chronic Lyme disease. 

What Is Chronic Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is considered chronic if the symptoms persist after 2 to 4 weeks of antibiotic treatment. 

These lingering symptoms can range from fatigue, joint pain, extreme headaches to health and cognitive problems. 

Unfortunately, there is still no definite reason why several people sustain Lyme disease symptoms even after treatment. 

Others often disassociate these symptoms with Lyme disease because they mimic the same symptoms of other conditions. 

Can You Get Lyme Disease Twice?

Yes, you can get reinfected with Lyme disease if a carrier tick bites you for the second time around. You may notice the same symptoms, especially the rash that looks like a bullseye or EM rash. 

On the other hand, Lyme disease flare ups or the tendency to experience the same symptoms even without getting exposed to deer ticks can indicate chronic Lyme disease. 

Hence, the idea that Lyme disease keeps coming back is simply due to the aggravated version of the condition. In short, the infection lingered and was not completely eradicated due to reasons yet to be uncovered by science. 

Can Lyme Disease Cause Permanent Damage?

Unfortunately, Lyme disease can cause permanent neurological damage. In some cases, conditions like joint pain and arthritis also never disappear once you have had late-stage Lyme disease.

However, a huge factor for these permanent damages is late treatment. It is rare to develop fatal complications after antibiotic treatment unless there are other underlying factors. 

Nevertheless, research is still ongoing with regard to the true nature of Lyme disease. But one thing is clear. Early diagnosis becomes instrumental in its treatment and eradication. 

Can Lyme Disease Change Your Personality?

To some degree, Lyme disease can change your personality, specifically your mood, energy level, and cognition. 

Lyme disease is known to affect the psychological state of a person due to the inflammation it causes to certain parts of the brain. As a result, the cognitive function becomes disrupted, which means that crucial neurotransmitters are not adequately produced. 

Moreover, several behavioral changes manifest like paranoia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks, and anorexia nervosa. 

Since Lyme disease was first considered a physical illness, its psychological effects were taken for granted in the early years of its identification. However, as more research has been done, a lot more details were discovered about how it changes a person’s mental state. 

What Happens if Lyme Disease Goes Untreated for Years? 

If Lyme disease goes untreated for years, you’ll suffer the long-term effects of the infection, which include chronic joint inflammation, heart problems (Lyme carditis), psychological disorders, sleep problems, memory loss, and nerve damage.

Moreover, since Lyme disease has a multisystemic impact, there is a high chance that it infects several organs altogether. The early stage of Lyme disease also has different sets of symptoms of varying degrees than the later stage of the infection.   

So, it’s not uncommon for patients with undiagnosed Lyme disease to experience problems with their digestion, reproduction, cognition, circulation, and skin health. 

There is also the likelihood that symptoms don’t manifest quickly after infection. While some individuals show symptoms as early as days or weeks after the tick bite, others observe these symptoms as far as 6 to 36 months. 

Can Your Body Fight Lyme Disease on Its Own?

Your body can fight Lyme disease, but it may not be enough to eradicate the bacteria out of your system completely. 

First, Borrelia burgdorferi has a unique ability to trick immune cells into attacking healthy cells. Then, the infection can affect multiple body systems at the same time.

Therefore, relying on your body or immune system alone is an unwise decision. But, on the other hand, if you follow the proper course of treatment, you’ll get cured faster. 

Is Lyme Disease Completely Curable?

Yes, you can completely recover from Lyme disease. Most individuals infected by this condition eliminate the bacteria altogether after a 2-to-4-week course of antibiotic treatment. 

While chronic Lyme disease can linger for months, it is rare to sustain the symptoms for years. Unless in rare cases when the condition is not diagnosed correctly. 

However, if the infection escalated to multisystemic complications, the treatment could be more complex and probably take longer to complete. Likewise, it could retain permanent neurological and joint damages. 

Get Tested for Lyme Disease

It’s easier to get tested for Lyme disease nowadays as blood tests are readily available online. You can just order it and go to the designated laboratory near you. 

Nonetheless, it is crucial to secure a blood test for Lyme disease when you observe the symptoms or when an infected tick has bitten you. 

It is also recommended for those who often stay outdoors in areas or states with prevalent cases of Lyme disease. These include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. ,

So, don’t hesitate to book a blood test if you suspect Lyme disease. Also, see your doctor as soon as possible to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment. 

Otherwise, you might have to suffer the potentially recurring and long-term effects of this infection.  

Medically Approved By Dr. Edward Salko, MD

Dr. Edward Salko is the board-certified physician who reviews lab tests provided by PERSONALABS™. He earned his Bachelor of Science in chemistry and pre-med from the University of Florida in Gainesville and his Doctor of Osteopathy Medicine in 1980 from Kansas City University School of Medicine.

Dr. Salko’s career has specialized in family and emergency medicine. His passion is to provide clients with the tools they need in the most convenient way possible to allow them to take charge of their own healthcare. He has held a variety of positions in Kansas, Florida and Washington. Currently, in addition to his duties as Medical Director for Personalabs, he is a practicing emergency physician in Kennewick, Washington.

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