The Deadly Truth About Lyme Disease: It Is Much More Common–And Dangerous–Than People Realize
Imagine waking up to the sensation of shooting pains in your scalp, as if someone had attached electrodes and was zapping you awake. Your heartbeat races, flashing from 60 beats per minute up to 140 with no warning, your breathing is consequently sped up, and you start experiencing double vision. Finally one side of your body goes numb–however this is no stroke, and you are far to young for that to be at all common.
The nightmare continues once you seek medical help, as the doctors have no idea what is wrong. You consult an array of doctors and specialists; some suggest a sudden onset of cardiac disease, some say muscular sclerosis.
None can offer any treatment that does more than relieve some of your physical distress.
This is what happens to as many as 300,000 people in the U.S. every year who are stricken with Lyme disease, the tick-borne infection that can leave people bed-ridden for not days or weeks but years.
While only 40,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the Centers for Disease Control every year, some estimates put the actual number of cases at more like 376,000, with most of them going undiagnosed.
For many sufferers, the disease takes a much less dramatic course: a bullseye shaped rash around the spot of the tick bite, some joint pain and flu-like symptoms and following two to four weeks of antibiotics, its all over except for a cool story to tell when on camping trips.
But if it doesn’t get diagnosed right away, and can get much worse, and harder to treat. You could face years if not a lifetime of systemic problems that might never go away.
“If your lucky you’ll see the rash and your doctor can start treatment,” said Dr. Brian Fallon, M.D., director of the Lyme and Tick Disease Research Center at Columbia University in a Men’s Health interview. “If you don’t then your treatment could be delayed.”
Indeed, there have been a number of doctors who were brought up on disciplinary charges for not following the Infectious Disease Society of America guidelines regarding Lyme disease. Some say that this is because given a diagnosis of Lyme disease from a particular doctor, insurance companies are prone to shy away from him or her in the future, as long-term antibiotic treatments are costly.
But of course it is the misdiagnosed patients who truly suffer.
So the big takeaways here are:
• Lyme disease can be a debilitating, life-changing disease that the medical community is reluctant or often unable to correctly diagnose
• The symptoms are a bullseye rash surrounding a tick bite, aching joints and flu-like symptoms that persist
• You may need to push your doctor to test for the Lyme antibodies if you suspect you have it. You may need to get a second or even a third opinion. Some patients have seen upwards of 15 doctors before being correctly diagnosed with Lyme
So have fun tramping in the woods, but remember that Lyme disease is much more common and has been proven to be much more physically debilitating than Zika or whatever the latest scare-mongering disease du jour is this week.