If you live or have lived in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut or anywhere in the northeast, you are at risk for tick-borne illness. If you feel fatigue, migrating joint or muscle pain, have memory problems, confusion or difficulty sleeping, you may have tick-borne illness. If you are not eating lots of fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly and managing your physical or mental stress, you are at risk for tick-borne illness.
Lyme disease is an epidemic in our area that is spread by ticks. It is carried by not only deer, but also field mice, birds and other rodents. These ticks move from species to species and share their blood, picking up whatever that animal is carrying. Therefore “Lyme disease” is often multiple diseases in one. These additional infections are called co-infections and they affect people with the same symptoms as classic Lyme disease. They are generally not tested for when someone complains to their doctor of Lyme symptoms.
In addition, the tests for Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease) are not very accurate. They depend on a person’s response to the infection. If their immune response is poor, they will test negative. If they have a co-infection and not Lyme, they will test negative. If their doctor only uses the CDC criteria to diagnose Lyme, they may be told it is not Lyme disease.
The symptoms of tick-borne illness look like lots of other conditions. The symptoms consist of fatigue, depression, irritability, migrating and stationary joint pain, diffuse muscle pain, neck and back pain, headaches, irritable bowel symptoms, difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, rashes, tingling or shooting nerve pain and brain fog. All of these complaints could be related to many other conditions. Patients are often sent on a wild goose chase and are labeled with other diagnoses when they test negative for Lyme, thus delaying treatment and making their condition potentially more difficult to treat.
Once a patient is given a diagnosis of tick-borne illness either by a positive test or constellation of symptoms and exposure, the treatments vary. Often they get a short course of an antibiotic (doxycycline), which sometimes is insufficient treatment, and symptoms return.
Patients treated by a Lyme-literate doctor (LLMD) can get multiple antibiotics as well as antimicrobial herbs. Equally important is to treat the person’s underlying body ecosystem. Supporting their immune system, correcting dietary weaknesses like gluten or dairy sensitivities and generally reducing their level of inflammation help people get well. Improving sleep hygiene and supporting adrenal health can help with fatigue. Finding vitamin, mineral and other nutrient insufficiencies and restoring healthy levels also support the path to health.
Heidi L. Wittels, M.D., is a physician at Montgomery Integrative Health Group, in Wyndmoor, and specializes in Lyme disease and mold. She is board-certified in integrative medicine and functional medicine. For more information, call 215-233-6226 or visit MontgomeryIntegrativeHealth.com. April 2018