Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted illnesses in the world. It’s passed on to humans via the bites of ticks infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.
The disease is most easily identified by the distinctive red erythema migrans rash, which has a circular, bull’s eye shape. A small rash usually appears at the site of the tick bite within a few days or weeks after infection has occurred, then slowly expands. But it can also appear elsewhere on the body, and in 20–30% of patients, it’s not observed at all.
Doctors typically diagnose Lyme disease based on the signs and symptoms, in addition to the patient’s history of tick bites or visits to high-risk areas. Common symptoms include fatigue, headache, fever, dizziness, joint pain, swelling and stiffness, sensitivity to light and changes in vision. If it’s not diagnosed and treated early on, sleep disturbances, cognitive dysfunction and other neurological symptoms may also occur as the bacteria spread throughout the body.
Early Lyme disease can usually be cured easily and completely with a course of oral antibiotics. However, effective treatment becomes more and more difficult if the illness is not recognised in time and is allowed to progress.
Acute vs. Chronic Lyme Disease
Acute and chronic Lyme disease differ significantly in their symptoms and severity. When the bacteria first enter the body at the time of the infecting tick bite, the immune system recognises the newcomers as harmful and begins fighting them. If a person’s immune function is healthy, the early symptoms may be very mild, and in some cases no symptoms are noticed at all. Therefore, some people may not realise they’ve contracted the infection.
If the illness remains untreated, the bacteria can go on living inside the cells without causing any serious problems for months or even years. However, they may eventually disperse all over the body as they travel to various tissues and organs. Symptoms then become more obvious and serious when the immune system weakens due to another medical condition, extreme stress or other environmental factors. This is an opportunity for the bacteria to flourish, which leads to a potentially life-threatening chronic infection.
Chronic Lyme disease occurs when the healthy functioning of the good microbes living in the body, collectively called microbiome, is disrupted. Once this has occurred, the immune system will continue to dysfunction, causing a wide range of seemingly disparate symptoms. This chronic phase can even last a lifetime.
A small number of patients experience neurological symptoms despite an antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease. This is so-called ‘post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome”’and is most likely to be caused by the widespread inflammation of the brain.
Can Lyme Disease Affect the Kidneys?
Kidney disease induced by Lyme disease is quite common in dogs, but it’s not very well-documented in humans. Nevertheless, there’s evidence that chronic Lyme disease can lead to kidney lesions and a type of kidney condition called glomerular disease in some patients.
The glomeruli are the small filtering units within the tissue of the kidney where blood is cleaned of toxic substances. Glomerular disease disrupts the function of the glomeruli, causing the kidney to retain harmful toxins and release proteins and red blood cells into the urine.
Patients with glomerular disease develop a build-up of immunoglobulin A (IgA) deposits in their kidneys – a condition known as Berger’s disease. IgA is an antibody that plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy immune system. However, excessive IgA deposits can lead to a severe inflammation that damages kidney tissues, especially the glomeruli.
If you’re asking the question ‘Can Lyme disease cause kidney failure?’, unfortunately, the answer is yes. Glomerular disease caused by infection can result in kidney failure. The condition can be fatal if not managed properly. Fortunately, patients have a good chance of making a full recovery when treated with a combination of antibiotics and steroids.
Lyme Disease and Renal Failure
The diagnosis of glomerular disease caused by infection with Borrelia burgdorferi requires a biopsy in order to detect the presence of the IgA deposits in the kidneys. Other signs of kidney dysfunction are connections between Lyme disease and the urinary tract, including blood in the urine (haematuria) and protein in the urine (proteinuria).
Lesions may also be found in other organs, such as the skin, and in long-term chronic Lyme disease, even in the brain and the spine. Serological tests can help confirm neuroborreliosis as the underlying cause of the damage.