Chronic Lyme disease – does it exist?


Her signs began rapidly: neck ache, excessive fatigue and intermittent fever and chills. The lady had been wholesome till then, and since she loved gardening and landscaping at her rural Maryland house, she questioned if a tick chew might need given her Lyme illness though she had not observed the telltale bull’s-eye pores and skin lesion.

Her physician advised her it was probably only a virus. The subsequent day, she felt worse and went to the emergency room, the place she was identified with mononucleosis.

The lady, a nurse in her 40s, returned to the emergency room a couple of weeks later with respiration hassle and low blood strain. Doctors examined her for Lyme illness and located it had spread to her heart, a uncommon manifestation of Lyme illness that can be fatal.

Antibiotics resolved her coronary heart and respiratory signs, however the fatigue, in addition to joint ache and hassle concentrating, continued. Doctors advised her it was simply the restoration course of, however the signs have been debilitating and didn’t go away. It wasn’t till a number of months later, when she acquired a second opinion, that she was identified with post-treatment Lyme disease, a recognized complication of Lyme illness.

“I felt dismissed and abandoned,” she later advised me. “No one stopped to listen to my story and advocate for me.”

Her expertise offers perception right into a extremely controversial medical time period: power Lyme illness.

Because there aren’t any definitive exams or remedies for this situation, sufferers who’ve signs may be dismissed by the medical institution. Many are denied drugs akin to antibiotics they imagine can management the power infections they believe they’ve.

I’m the previous chair of the tick-borne diseases working group on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a medical researcher who has studied power Lyme illness for 20 years. It has change into apparent to me that the issue is deeper and extra complicated than the polarized debate over the controversy would make one imagine.

My colleagues and I’ve intently adopted the well being of Lyme illness sufferers as they get better, and what we’ve got found runs counter to the mainstream instructing about Lyme illness. Doctors nonetheless usually don’t know the way to precisely diagnose sufferers with Lyme illness, and sufferers don’t at all times get higher, even when they’re identified and handled. Physicians lack the diagnostic instruments for early prognosis or for documenting treatment of the illness.

Studying this subgroup of post-treatment Lyme illness sufferers who’re handled for Lyme illness however don’t get higher is a clue on my solution to discover to grasp power Lyme illness. While it could not present definitive solutions but, we hope it can add to the physique of information about this perplexing set of circumstances which can be probably various in origin.

The power Lyme controversy

Lyme illness, first recognized within the United States within the 1970s, has grown right into a well being epidemic because the ticks that transmit it to people expand their range. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that about 300,000 people in the U.S. become newly contaminated yearly now. The signs may be debilitating, together with neurological signs, excessive fatigue and muscle and joint ache.

When signs linger lengthy after a identified affected person receives the usual antibiotic remedy, just like the nurse in Maryland skilled, the affected person could have a situation known as post-treatment Lyme illness syndrome, a subset of power Lyme illness. Many specialists within the discipline estimate about 10% to 20% of patients identified with Lyme illness get this syndrome.

The controversy round power Lyme illness emerged when affected person advocacy teams and a few medical doctors started to make use of the time period to explain sufferers who had nonspecific signs akin to fatigue and ache, and testing didn’t at all times present that that they had been uncovered to Lyme illness.

At the center of the controversy is the query: Can an individual have a power bacterial an infection that will not present up on exams?

These sufferers are pissed off with a medical institution whose focus is on evidence-based remedy in a discipline the place proof is commonly missing. Without a prognosis by the institution, these sick sufferers are sometimes dismissed and may’t get handled, resulting in a typically poisonous setting as they fight for treatment.

Symptoms with out proof

My coaching in infectious illnesses didn’t put together me for the sufferers I began seeing after transferring to a Lyme-endemic area in 1996. Patients that I had handled for well-documented Lyme illness have been experiencing power joint ache, neurological signs and excessive fatigue, but most lacked “objective measurable manifestations” of Lyme illness, like abnormalities in blood exams or radiologic imaging proof of tissue injury.

Chronic Lyme disease – does it exist?
Can Lyme illness be a power an infection? Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It was, and nonetheless is, uncomfortable telling sufferers that we don’t know precisely what’s going on or the way to finest deal with their sickness. My power Lyme sufferers have been sicker and had much less hope than the AIDS sufferers I labored with, however the underlying mechanism of sickness remained elusive.

Part of the problem is the dearth of definitive exams for power Lyme illness. After remedy with antibiotics, the micro organism that causes Lyme illness – Borrelia burgdorferi – isn’t detected, but signs usually proceed.

There are a number of theories about why signs may proceed for months if not years. Some of the micro organism may be capable to evade the immune system, bacterial residue may stay that set off ongoing irritation or a extreme preliminary an infection, delayed remedy or coinfections from the tick chew, akin to babesiosis, may result in an uncontrolled and ongoing overreaction by the patient’s immune system.

Without laboratory findings, nonetheless, most medical doctors are uncomfortable with prognosis and remedy of power Lyme illness.

This could also be as a result of Lyme illness signs may be mistaken for these of different sicknesses, akin to power fatigue, fibromyalgia and despair. Doctors additionally acknowledge the general public well being dangers of antibiotic overuse and the potential risk to patients from long-term antibiotic remedies.

A bunch of medical doctors has championed the care of sufferers with power Lyme illness and developed guidelines for their care. Some of their practices have been criticized, particularly long-term intravenous antibiotics which have the potential for critical unintended effects. Yet it’s not unusual for affected person anecdotes and expertise to report that long-term antibiotic remedy and different complementary care interventions have helped regardless of the dearth of FDA approval or randomized trials to assist their use.

Diagnosing the syndrome

Our research has proven that post-treatment Lyme illness syndrome may be meticulously recognized in sufferers with beforehand handled Lyme illness by a constellation of quality-of-life signs, together with fatigue, sleep disturbance, musculoskeletal ache and cognitive issues, and by the severity of these signs.

However, the holy grail for diagnosing post-treatment Lyme illness syndrome – and checking out power Lyme – can be a blood biomarker to establish the biology of the illness in sufferers. Molecular markers are quickly being found that present insights into the mechanisms of illness that present the potential interaction of each microbial and host inflammatory responses that will trigger ongoing symptoms in previously handled Lyme illness sufferers.

Once molecular markers are established, it will set the stage for brand spanking new remedy trials.

The true extent of this insidious epidemic continues to be unknown, however it’s clear, primarily based on my expertise and work, that it not correct to easily argue that chronic Lyme disease doesn’t exist.

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