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Lyme disease is one of the most difficult health conditions to diagnose and treat, and also one of the most dangerous, due to the wide range of health complications it can cause, including heart disease. Although mainstream, conventional health experts consider Lyme disease to be both rare and relatively new (it's officially said to have first been discovered near Lyme, Connecticut in 1977), they are wrong on both counts. In actuality, Lyme was first identified in 1883, in the town of Breslau, Germany. Holistic health practitioners recognize that the spread of Lyme disease has become epidemic, but is often un- or misdiagnosed because of how often its symptoms masquerade as other health conditions. For this reason, many health experts now refer to Lyme disease as the "great imposter," a term first used to describe syphilis, which similarly can be mistaken for a wide range of other health conditions. If left untreated, Lyme disease inevitably spreads into the joints and nervous system, where it can cause a wide variety of serious health problems.
Although Lyme disease is identified by conventional physicians as an initial rash, known as erythema migrans (EM), which affects the skin in a "bull's-eye" pattern, only 30 to 40 percent of adults with Lyme disease, and less than 10 percent of infected children, exhibit the rash. Moreover, in many cases, particularly among African Americans and others with dark skin, the EM rash may go unnoticed, due to its lightness, or it may be mistaken for a bruise. Further compounding the problem is the fact that, although the EM rash will typically manifest within a few days of infection, in other cases it may not appear for months, by which time Lyme disease can have spread throughout the body.
The majority of people with Lyme disease, because they do not exhibit the EM rash, typically are unaware that they have the illness. Instead, they, as well as their physicians, mistake it for other types of chronic, degenerative disease. Diseases that Lyme is often mistaken for include chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism and other thyroid problems, multiple sclerosis (MS), Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), and various types of environmental illness. It is not uncommon for Lyme disease to lead to depression, and in some cases, extreme emotional dysfunction and hopelessness.
Caution: Lyme disease, in order to be treated effectively, requires the attention of a professional health care practitioner who employs an integrative treatment protocol that combines the best of conventional medicine with natural cures. A list of such leading Lyme experts, as well as organizations dedicated to providing accurate information about Lyme disease, can be found at the end of this article. If you suspect you suffer from Lyme disease, seek immediate medical treatment.
Symptoms : Symptoms of Lyme disease occur over three stages: localized disease, disseminated early disease, and disseminated later disease. In the first, or localized disease stage, the only visible manifestation of Lyme disease, if any, is the EM rash without other symptoms. In the disseminated early disease stage, which is caused as the Bb spirochete starts to spread throughout the body, the primary symptom is widespread inflammation that is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms. In the final, or disseminated later disease stage, which typically occurs three months after a person first contracts Bb, but can sometimes not manifest until much longer than that (in some cases as long as 15 years or more), the primary symptoms are organ damage and impairment of other body systems. What follows is a more complete list of symptoms for each of the three stages of Lyme disease.
Localized Symptoms: The primary initial symptom of Lyme disease is the EM rash, which, if present, will occur at the site of the tick or insect bite. Other symptoms at this stage can include minor aches and pains, headache, and fever.
Disseminated Early and Later Disease Symptoms: Symptoms of Lyme disease in both the early and late stages of dissemination can vary. They include chronic fatigue, headache, weakness, muscle aches and pain, back pain, joint pain and swelling (similar to arthritis), chills, fever, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, facial paralysis, swollen lymph glands, enlarged spleen, profuse perspiration, irregular heartbeat, convulsions, vision problems, memory and cognition problems, cranial and Bell's palsy, impaired muscle coordination, gait problems, stabbing pains along the extremities, diminished reflexes, brain and spinal cord infection, bladder and kidney problems, infertility, liver problems (including, in some cases, hepatitis), and skin disorders.
Lyme disease in these two stages can also result in mental health problems, including depression, mood swings, dementia, personality changes, hallucinations, panic attacks, impulsive violence and verbal aggression, paranoia, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and suicide. It can also cause or play a role in bipolar disorder (manic depression) and neurological disease.
When diagnosed at a very early stage, Lyme disease can be cured by a course of oral antibiotics, such as doxycycline. When treatment is delayed, the results can be disastrous, since in its later stages, "Lyme also includes collateral conditions that result from being ill with multiple pathogens, each of which has a profound impact on the person's overall health," states Joseph J. Burrascano, Jr., M.D., of East Hamptom, New York. "Together, damage to virtually all bodily systems can result."
Causes: Lyme disease is caused by a microorganism known as Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), a type of spirochete (so named because of its slender, spiral shape) that was first isolated and identified by Willy Burgdorfer, Ph.D., M.D. in 1982. Conventional wisdom holds that Lyme is solely transmitted by ticks. This is false. In addition to ticks, Lyme can also be spread by a variety of other insects, including fleas, flies, mites, and mosquitoes, as well as by human-to-human contact (including breast feeding), and by blood transfusion. Unpasteurized goat or cow milk can also transmit Bb infection. It is important to realize that Lyme disease is not a simple infection, but rather a serious, complex illness that can often consist of other co-infections in addition to Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), especially the parasitic pathogens Babesia and Ehrlichia.
Diagnosing Lyme Disease : Accurately diagnosing Lyme disease is extremely difficult. Compounding this problem is the fact that both positive and negative findings do not necessarily mean what one might expect. For example, it is entirely possible to test positive to Lyme disease and not have it, since at some point in the past, you may have been exposed to Bb, resulting in the creation of antibodies by your body in order to fight it. If the antibodies were able to do their job effectively (a possibility in people with healthy immune systems), the Bb would have been eliminated and the positive reading would simply be reflecting the presence of Bb antibodies. Conversely, diagnostic testing measures for Lyme disease do not always detect Bb, leading to negative test results although Lyme disease is actually present.
Conventional Testing Methods for Lyme Disease: The most common conventional testing methods used to diagnose Lyme disease fall into two categories: antibody and direct detection. Antibody tests include the Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test, an automated and standardized procedure that uses enzymes to detect Bb antibodies, and the ELISA "capture test," which uses two different methods to detect Bb antibodies, and is considered more sensitive than the more commonly available version of the ELISA test.
Another antibody test is known as the Indirect Fluorescent Antibody (IFA) test, which was the original test used to diagnose Lyme disease, and is still used by some labs despite its high risk of error. In this test, fluorescent dye is added to a slide containing a blood sample mixed with a dead Bb specimen. The slide is then placed under a microscope under fluorescent or ultraviolet light. If a green color appears, it is considered a positive reading.
With both the ELISA and IFA tests, a positive reading usually results in a follow up Western blot test, which also carries a high risk of inaccuracy, given the fact that as many as 40 percent of people with Lyme disease ever exhibit antibodies for Lyme. Other antibody tests, which also carry the risk of misdiagnosis, include the Borreliacidal antibody test (BAT), the immune complex test, the prevue test, and the C6 Lyme peptide test.
Direct detection testing methods for detecting Lyme disease include culturing, staining, antigen tests, and the Polymerase Chain Reaction test (PCR).
Alternative Testing Methods for Lyme Disease: An increasing amount of physicians, especially those in the field of holistic and alternative methods, are turning to two nontraditional testing methods despite the fact that neither test has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The tests were developed by Joanne Whitaker, MD, and Linda Mattman, PhD, respectively. Dr. Whitaker's test is known as the Rapid Identification of Bb (RIBb). It involves a highly purified fluorescent antibody stain that is specific for Bb, making it capable of determining whether Bb is present within 30 minutes after the test is performed. Such a rapid test result is key to making an accurate diagnosis in time to begin a proper treatment protocol before Lyme disease progresses throughout the body.
The test developed by Dr. Mattman is a culture test that also employs a fluorescent antibody staining technique. This allows health practitioners who use it to observe live cultures under a fluorescent microscope. According to Dr. Mattman, when a person is ill, his or her antibodies become entangled in the body's tissues, forming what is known as an immune complex that cannot be detected by conventional blood and antibody tests. This is why conventional tests for Lyme disease so often result in false negatives. Both the RIBb and Mattman tests look for Bb directly, instead of antibodies to it, in much the same way that tuberculosis is diagnosed.
A third diagnostic test that is becoming increasingly popular in the United States originated in the Netherlands, where it was developed by internationally renowned holistic physician C.J.M. Broekhuyse, MD, founder and director of Vegsii Research. Dr. Broekhuyse has a keen interest in Lyme disease because he was infected with it many years ago, and did not become aware that he was until many years later, largely due to the ineffective conventional medical tests for detecting it. Dr. Broekhuyse now devotes much of his time helping others recover from Lyme disease. In the process of doing so, he has developed a blood test that screens not only for Bb, but also for Ehrlichia phagocytophila, and protozoa similar to the malaria organism called Babesia microti, making it highly effective for determining if Lyme disease is present. Dr. Broekhuyse's test is now available to people in the United States through Vonner Health Services, a company dedicated to helping people cope with Lyme disease and a wide variety of other illnesses caused by bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections.
Electrodermal Screening (EDS): Another test often employed by alternative physicians to detect Lyme disease is electrodermal screening. Electrodermal screening (EDS) is a noninvasive diagnostic technique that measures the electrical output of specific points on the hands, face, or feet that correlate to acupuncture meridian points at the beginning or end of energy meridians. The electrical signals given off at these points provide information about the health status of the body's organs and organ systems, and can also be used to detect the presence of toxins, energy and hormonal imbalances, and harmful microorganisms. In the hands of a highly skilled EDS practitioner, EDS can often detect evidence of Lyme disease, even when other sophisticated testing methods fail to do so. This is because both health and disease are first and foremost the result of balanced or imbalanced energy.
The Lyme Disease Questionnaire: According to Joseph Burrascano, MD, a leading expert in the treatment of Lyme disease, "No currently available test, no matter the source or type, is definitive in ruling out infection with the pathogens associated with Lyme disease, or whether these infections are responsible for the patient's symptoms. The entire clinical picture must be taken into account, including a search for concurrent conditions and alternative diagnoses, and other reasons for some of the presenting complaints." To address these issues, Dr. Burrascano developed an in-depth list of diagnostic criteria and an exhaustive symptom checklist to help patients and their physicians make a more accurate diagnosis of Lyme disease. His Lyme disease questionnaire is made available by the Lyme Disease Network, a national clearing house for information about Lyme Disease.
Preventing Lyme Disease : Like all serious illnesses, the best way to deal with Lyme disease is to prevent it. The following guidelines, provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, can help you do so. Be sure to especially follow them between the months of May through September, which is when most cases of Lyme infection occur.
1. Avoid tick-infested areas.
2. When outdoors, wear light-colored clothing so ticks are clearly visible. Smooth materials such as windbreakers are harder for ticks to latch onto, and are therefore preferable to clothing such as knits.
3. Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a hat, and closed shoes and socks. Be sure to tuck pant legs into socks or boots, and tuck shirts into pants.
4. Apply insect repellent to pants, socks, shoes, and exposed skin.
5. Walk in the center of nature trails to avoid overgrown grass and brush.
6. After being outdoors in tick-infested areas, remove, wash, and dry clothing.
7. Inspect your body thoroughly and carefully remove any attached ticks. Also check pets for ticks.
8. If you find a tick, tug gently but firmly with blunt tweezers near the head of the tick until it releases its hold on the skin. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight out. To reduce the risk of infection, try not to crush the tick's body or to handle the tick with bare fingers. Don't attempt to dislodge ticks using heat or chemicals, as this can cause them to inject more pathogens into your skin.
9. Swab the bite area thoroughly with an antiseptic to prevent bacterial infection.
Additional Prevention Tips: To protect yourself from tick bites, also take the following measures:
• Remove woodpiles, rock walls, and bird feeders, since these attract tick-carrying small animals and can therefore increase the risk of Lyme infection.
• Property should be treated with Damminix, which consists of cardboard tubes containing cotton balls that have been dipped in insecticide. Lace tubes around wooded areas and below shrubs. "Mice, which are a key link in the propagation of Lyme disease, find the cotton and bring it back to their burrows to be used as nesting material, with the result being a big decrease in the number of ticks in the area," Dr. Burrascano explains.
• After two years, the tick population may once again increase as other small animals that do not gather cotton become tick hosts. Therefore, using Damminix alone is not enough. You should also use liquid or granular insecticides, such as Tempo, permethrin, and sevin. If liquid insecticides are used, apply by fogging (not by coarse spraying) in a strip a few feet wide at the perimeter of the lawn at any areas adjacent to woods and underbrush. Also treat any ornamental shrubs near the house that may serve as a habitat for small animals. The best time to apply these products is in late spring and early fall.
• Tick repellents that contain permethrin, such as Permanone and Permakill, can also be sprayed directly onto clothing before you wear them (let dry fully before you put them on). Avoid having such products come in contact with your skin, however.
• Upon returning home from outdoor activities, place your clothes in a dryer for ten minutes. This will kill any ticks that may be hidden in your clothes.
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