Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness that can be contracted by a variety of animals, humans included. The tick is a small insect that burrows into the skin of the host and bites. If the tick is carrying the Borrelia bacterium, its saliva, which holds the bacteria, releases it into the host’s bloodstream, leading to an infection. While not all tick bites put a person at risk for Lyme disease, during certain times of the year – typically the warmer spring and summer months – it’s important when venturing into the woods and other green areas to take precautions.
Symptoms of Lyme disease begin to appear anywhere from days to weeks after being bitten by a tick. For some, it’s a red rash in a ring-like shape around the site of the bug bite that is the first clue of infection. Others experience flu-like symptoms such as deep fatigue, dizziness, lack of appetite, headaches and stiffness of the neck and joints, just to name a few. Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics and usually clears up in a couple of weeks. But if left untreated, Lyme disease can wreak havoc on the body, causing fever, rash, facial paralysis, and arthritis.
Lyme disease can either be chronic or acute. While the acute version of the infection is not a disputed diagnosis in the medical community, chronic Lyme disease can be a very divisive topic. Acute Lyme disease has characteristics that align with what is described above: rash, headaches, fever and other flu-like symptoms. Most tests reveal that Lyme leaves the body with the help of antibiotics in a few weeks after the acute stage. However, some patients report feeling the effects of the disease long after lab reports reveal the Lyme disease has left the patient’s system. This has been dubbed chronic Lyme disease, and its existence is constantly debated among the medical community.
Chronic Lyme Disease: Myth Or Misunderstood?
Chronic Lyme disease occurs in approximately 10–20% of patients who receive treatment for acute Lyme disease. Because the patient’s symptoms can no longer be linked to the presence of Lyme disease in the patient’s system, the medical community struggles to identify exactly what causes the symptoms in patients long-term. Predictably, without a concrete explanation for why patients are still feeling ill after treatment, how to eliminate the symptoms the patient may still be experiencing also becomes a challenge.
Some professionals prefer the term Post Lyme Disease Syndrome (PLSD) because the word syndrome acknowledges “different causes of the post-treatment symptoms”, causes of which might include “persistent infection, persistent immune activation, damage from the prior infection, or changes in the brain chemistry that leads to abnormally activated pain or mood pathways or altered cognition,” according to Columbia University’s medical center. Others call it Post Treatment Lyme Disease, both of which describe the same puzzling reports of lingering symptoms.
This change in mood and cognition is another popular topic among those who seem to be chronically ill after contracting Lyme disease. Some report changes that move much past the physical, leading to questions about whether or not chronic Lyme, or PLSD, might be linked to mood swings and other mental health issues.
Can Lyme Disease Affect Personality?
It is by no means an unprecedented occurrence for a bacterial infection to impact a patient’s brain. Syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection, can turn to neurosyphilis. This causes auditory and visual hallucinations and varying types of mood disturbances in patients if left untreated. Likewise, the bacteria that leads to Lyme disease could have similar effects on the brains of people who have been infected.
Often called The Great Imitator, Lyme disease can damage the central nervous system, which can lead to unexpected changes in a patient’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. As one study revealed: “A broad range of psychiatric reactions have been associated with Lyme disease including paranoia, dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, major depression, anorexia nervosa, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Depressive states among patients with late Lyme disease are fairly common, ranging across studies from 26% to 66%.”
With such a wide range of mental illness linked to Lyme-related symptoms, it’s no wonder that Lyme-related illness is so hard to diagnose. Because we understand so little about the long-term effects of Lyme disease and personality changes, many people who experience physical symptoms or mental illness after being diagnosed with Lyme disease struggle for quite some time without receiving a concrete diagnosis.
What To Do If You Think You’ve Contracted Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is a serious illness and if you think you have been exposed, you should seek medical attention immediately. The sooner that you are able to start antibiotic treatment for Lyme, the less likely it is that you’ll experience any long-term physical or psychological effects. Acute symptoms can be treated sometimes in as little as a few weeks. If you have had acute Lyme disease and you suspect you may be experiencing the effects of chronic Lyme, ensure that you are in touch with a professional who is experienced with Lyme patients, and who is willing to find the right combination of medication and alternative options to help you minimize your symptoms.