In the pantheon of human afflictions, Lyme disease is significantly underestimated. This insidious condition affects hundreds of thousands of people all across the globe every year, yet its detection, diagnosis and treatment are routinely a challenge for both doctors and patients alike. Lyme is actually considered to be one of the fastest growing infectious diseases in both America and Europe, but it’s largely misunderstood and underdiagnosed on both continents, especially the latter. Why is this exactly? The answer lies in the way Lyme affects the human body, and in the symptoms it presents.
Most people are aware that Lyme is a contagious disease that is spread through ticks. These tiny arachnids latch onto humans and feed on their blood for several days or so, before dropping off and moving on. Contrary to popular belief, it is actually quite hard to locate a tick on your body; they usually set up camp in natural crevices and hard-to-reach spots, making them largely undetectable unless you’re actively looking for them. They also secrete a small amount of anesthetic in their saliva, which means their host doesn’t feel or notice their bite and continued presence.
The truth is, Lyme disease is not hard to diagnose, if it is caught early. The challenges arise if it goes undetected. It’s also important to bear in mind that a bite from a carrier tick does not immediately result in Lyme contagion. The longer the tick feeds on the human host the higher the chance of transmission. The best indicator for the presence of Lyme is a distinctive rash that forms around the bite, commonly in the shape of a bullseye; a red circle appears at the site of the bite, surrounded by a larger red circle. This rash is present for around 50% of Lyme sufferers in the early stages of the disease, and is the prime indicator of the condition. In conjunction with tick contact, doctors can usually diagnose Lyme immediately when the signature rash is present.
Unfortunately, this telltale rash doesn’t hang around, and can often be hard to notice, especially if the person was not aware they were bitten by a tick. Once the rash fades after three to four weeks, the symptoms of Lyme become much more general and harder to pinpoint. Flu-like ailments almost always set in shortly after contracting the disease, such as fevers, night sweats, headaches, nausea and joint pain. These are extremely generic symptoms, and are most associated with bouts of cold or flu. In addition, they are usually not intense, occasionally presenting as mild. This makes it even less likely that the patient will consult a doctor, as we all suffer from episodes of flu now and again; the best course of action is usually to rest and wait it out.
As Lyme progresses, the diagnostic challenge grows. It is by no means a simple disease, and the symptoms often mutate over time as the malicious bacteria infects the body. The bouts of cyclic flu-like manifestations will subside over time, only to be replaced by different, more debilitating symptoms. They include chronic fatigue, pain or weakness in the arms or legs, cognitive difficulties, clouded short-term memory and even heart issues. These symptoms are reminiscent of other serious diseases such as ALS/MND, MS, dementia, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, and accordingly, Lyme is routinely misdiagnosed as one of these, or some other condition which presents familiar symptoms.
By the time these symptoms show up on a patient, a tick bite might be long forgotten, if indeed it was noticed in the first place. Lyme can degenerate a person’s health over a number of years, and because the symptoms are not dramatic or immediately life-threatening, it can be a long time before a patient seeks medical advice. Compounding this diagnostic problem is the fact that many physicians aren’t trained or versed in the detection of Lyme disease, especially if they don’t practise in a tick-populated area. It may never occur to them to test for Lyme as a cause, as the education of the disorder in some medical circles is less than ideal. Another issue is that initial tests for Lyme in the early stages can come back negative, as the disease hasn’t had a chance to fully infect the person’s system and present as a fully-fledged illness. These initial negative results can come back to haunt both doctors and patients alike many years later, when medical professionals assume Lyme has been ruled out as a cause and don’t explore it further.
Despite these challenges, Lyme disease is becoming more and more visible across the world. There are all sorts of treatment plans available for patients, and the options for sufferers are growing every year. German specialists Make Well are leading the charge with their comprehensive range of high quality dietary and herbal supplements, designed specifically to aid doctors and patients in the continuing battle against Lyme. The challenge in the immediate future is educating doctors in clinics all over the world about the varied and confusing symptoms of Lyme, to ensure this debilitating disease is no longer overlooked.