Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the world. Patient numbers continue to rise every year, with instances of the condition reported in most countries in Europe and Asia, as well as every state in the United States. Unfortunately, the true effects and symptoms of Lyme disease are not well understood. Nor are they consistent; the long-term form of the disorder, known as chronic Lyme disease, can have a number of debilitating effects on a patient. Many doctors do not understand the full devastating potential of these symptoms, as chronic Lyme is not considered a legitimate disease by the wider medical community. One of the most concerning mutations of Lyme is called neuroborreliosis.
As the name suggests, neuroborreliosis affects the neurological system. The second part of its name comes from Borrelia burgdorferi, the strain of bacteria which causes Lyme. Chronic Lyme can manifest itself in a seemingly endless number of ways. While neuroborreliosis is classed as a secondary mutation of the primary Lyme infection, the symptoms can be severe, and it’s often one of the most distressing and potentially damaging manifestations of the disorder. Neuroborreliosis is estimated to affect between 10–40% of people suffering with chronic Lyme, though an exact percentage is extremely difficult to pin down. It is usually a latter-stage complication of the main infection, sometimes not presenting itself for months or years after the initial tick bite.
Like much of Lyme disease, when it does manifest, it can be extremely tough to diagnose. Neuroborreliosis is an adept mimicker of other disorders, in keeping with chronic Lyme’s nom-de-guerre, ‘the Great Imitator’. Neuroborreliosis is often confused with other chronic disorders like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, which can cause additional distress and confusion for patients. Alternatively, because of a base lack of understanding around Lyme disease by many medical practitioners, neuroborreliosis can often go unrecognised and subsequently undiagnosed. So what are the warning signs Lyme patients should look out for, and how do the symptoms manifest themselves?
The initial symptom found to be the most common in patients is nerve (neurogenic) pain. It often originates in the back and progresses down the legs, and is usually accompanied by a tingling sensation, as well as weakness or numbness. This, of course, is an extremely generic symptom, which can apply to everything from a strained back to MND. It is not uncommon for this initial symptom to be completely misread, or written off as something else entirely. When this happens, subsequent symptoms will often be attributed to the root misdiagnosis, compounding the treatment process severely and creating a vicious circle of confusion and extended discomfort for the patient.
Another common symptom of neuroborreliosis is Bell’s palsy, which presents as a temporary paralysis on one side of the face. This alarming symptom can also cause tingling and nerve sensations, but most people are able to fully recover from it in due course. Because the effect of the Borrelia bacteria on the system is not well defined, it is hard to comprehensively list specific symptoms. It is also difficult to ascertain exactly when they transition from acute to chronic. However, other symptoms that have been reported by patients include memory loss, chronic headaches, constant brain fog, anxiety, depression, mood disorders, paraesthesia and limb pain.
If left to their own devices, these symptoms can absolutely shatter a person’s physical and mental health, leading to a severe decline in their quality of life. Because we can’t see it, and we don’t fully understand it, neuroborreliosis remains one of the more intimidating potential symptoms of Lyme disease. These debilitating symptoms are hypothesised to occur when the bacteria infiltrate the white blood cells, which then move into the white matter of the brain and spinal cord. It is thought that the myelin (essentially a coating) around the CNS nerve fibres are eaten away, leading to abnormal nerve conduction tests. The process is very similar to multiple sclerosis, but engineered by a different source; in neuroborreliosis’ case, it’s the Borrelia bacteria.
Borrelia burgdorferi plays havoc with the immune system. Many of the more ‘traditional’ symptoms of chronic Lyme disease occur from this interplay with our immune response. This is why treatment for chronic Lyme is such a delicate operation. It takes specialists, like those in BCA-clinic in Augsburg, who have been studying Lyme disease for years, to understand the complex relationship between infection and inflammation symptoms. There is no consensus on the correct path for neuroborreliosis treatment, however, which largely stems from the non-recognition of chronic Lyme as an actual disease. As it stands, antibiotic therapy to combat the infection symptoms, combined with nutritional and supplemental plans to tackle the inflammation symptoms, is the best way forward.
Where exactly neuroborreliosis fits into the broader chronic Lyme disease picture is still a little hazy. As with many elements of this dangerous disease, the topic needs more study, funding and investigation. Until then, it remains a dangerous and threatening secondary effect of one of the most debilitating chronic diseases in the world.