Dealing with Lyme disease symptoms can be challenging enough for people who have the condition, but coping with chronic Lyme disease can be even more of a battle. For many people who were misdiagnosed or who didn’t receive treatment early on, Lyme symptoms can worsen significantly. This means that it can be even tougher to treat once a patient gets a proper diagnosis of Lyme disease. For individuals living in the UK, many people will wonder, ‘Can I get treatment for Lyme on the NHS?’ The answer is yes – there is Lyme treatment on the NHS for both acute and chronic cases. Read on for more information about Lyme disease and how to get the right treatment for it.
Lyme disease first got its name back in the 1970s in a place called Lyme, Connecticut. A group of both children and adults living in the town developed similar symptoms, such as skin rashes and extreme fatigue. In 1981, a scientist named Willy Burgdorfer studied the connection between tick bites and these symptoms, and Lyme disease was put on the map. Since then, with additional research and growing awareness, incidences of Lyme disease have been reported all around the world. In fact, the cases of reported Lyme disease in the UK have increased dramatically, with an expected estimate of 8,000 cases this year (compared to around 2,000 to 3,000 cases per year in years past). Researchers believe that Scotland is hit particularly hard by Lyme, with the highest number (27%) of cases. Southwest and South England also have an above-average rate of Lyme disease. There are a number of reasons for this significant increase, including better diagnosis by doctors, as well as more people being exposed to ticks (which can be carriers for the Lyme bacteria).
The main symptoms of acute Lyme disease occur when someone is bitten by a tick. Although not all ticks are carriers for the infection, being bitten by a tick with the Lyme bacteria can cause major health problems. These symptoms can include a red, bullseye rash around the site of the bite, flu-like symptoms (including headache, fever, general malaise, etc.), muscle and joint pain, and tiredness or loss of energy. Although the rash is the most common symptom of Lyme, not all people will develop one. All of these symptoms vary from person to person and could take as long as three months to surface. Because symptoms might not appear immediately after being bitten, it can be hard for people to correlate their tick bite with these types of symptoms later on (and there’s always the possibility that they didn’t even know they were bitten).
Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms mimic other conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, depression and fibromyalgia. For acute Lyme treatment on the NHS, doctors can run two types of blood tests to help confirm or rule out a Lyme diagnosis. However, these tests are not always accurate (especially if someone is in the early stages of the disease). Tests may be redone if a patient still experiences Lyme disease symptoms even after a negative test result. If the physician does believe a patient has Lyme disease, they’ll typically prescribe a three-week course of antibiotics.
When people are still experiencing symptoms after receiving antibiotics, they have what’s considered post-treatment Lyme disease, or chronic Lyme disease. Researchers are not in total agreement about why some people don’t respond to treatment. Some think that it’s because of persistent bacteria that isn’t destroyed by antibiotics, while others believe that the symptoms are the result of damage done to the immune system and tissue in the body by the Lyme bacteria. Chronic Lyme disease can mean that symptoms exist for years after the tick bite took place and can include far more severe symptoms, such as cognitive difficulties, decreased short-term memory or ability to concentrate, and speech problems. Mobility can also be significantly affected because of chronic Lyme.
It is possible to get chronic Lyme treatment on the NHS. Doctors might consider other tests to confirm the diagnosis, including an electrocardiogram (EKG) or echocardiogram to examine heart function, a spinal tap to check cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), and an MRI of the brain to observe neurological conditions. Some doctors recommend people with severe, chronic symptoms be referred to a specialist in hospital for injections of antibiotics or intravenous (IV) antibiotics. This course of treatment can take months to be effective, although symptoms tend to improve over time. There are other minor medications that doctors use to help reduce pain and discomfort. For example, they may prescribe pain relievers to treat joint pain, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications or intra-articular steroids to treat joint swelling. It can also be beneficial for people with chronic Lyme to seek help for emotional issues that can arise, such as antidepressants from a psychiatrist or psychotherapy from a mental health professional. Symptoms of chronic Lyme can be extremely bothersome and debilitating for people, so they’re often forced to get support to better manage their symptoms and any other stressors in their lives.
There is treatment for chronic Lyme disease available on the NHS. If you think you might have contracted Lyme from a tick bite, you should be seen by a medical professional immediately to avoid prolonged symptoms and a possible chronic Lyme disease diagnosis. Taking action to get treatment early on can make a great deal of difference when it comes to treating Lyme disease.