Lyme disease

Lyme disease is particularly challenging because it can look like so many different things, and thus is easily misdiagnosed.

by Dr. Warren M. Levin — 

If you have been traipsing from one doctor’s office to another with a potpourri of symptoms ranging from rashes to achy joints to arthritis, chronic flu, fatigue, sore throat and headaches, to name just a few, you might have Lyme disease.

Lyme disease gets its name from the town of Lyme, Connecticut, where it first appeared in the 1970s as a sudden epidemic of what seemed like juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

The origin of Lyme disease is shrouded in X-Files-type mystique because it was reported to have escaped from the military lab on nearby Plum Island, New York. Investigative journalist Michael Carroll, author of Lab 257, spent seven years piecing together how the events of WWII and the Cold War gave Plum Island the secretive task of developing biological warfare. He postulates that Lyme disease migrated off the island by way of ticks, and those ticks gradually spread the disease from the New York area to the rest of the United States and the world.

Lyme disease is particularly challenging because it can look like so many different things, and thus is easily misdiagnosed. Given the range of symptoms, a Lyme patient could be misdiagnosed as having multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, Bell’s palsy, meningitis, encephalitis and heart failure, to name a few.

Lyme disease typically starts with a bite so small it often goes unnoticed. Then a tell-tale “bulls-eye rash” often follows. If caught early, several weeks of antibiotics is curative in the vast majority of cases. If not, the patient experiences arthritis or other symptoms in the second phase. By that time, the bacteria may have undergone a metamorphosis and penetrated the body’s cells where it escapes the surveillance of the immune system. At this point, treatment is more difficult and prolonged.

A holistic medical doctor will use a combination of antibiotics, diet, supplements and intravenous treatments. Most difficult of all is to know when treatment is complete, because there is no blood test that can definitely prove absence of the infection. And a late relapse, sometimes after many years, may be the most difficult challenge of all.

Researchers have isolated the bacterium in body fluids, so it is possible that Lyme may be transmitted sexually, in utero and via breast milk. Current research also suggests it isn’t just about ticks anymore. It is thought possible now to catch Lyme through the bites of mosquitoes, gnats, mites and fleas.

“This is a nasty, nasty infection that you would not wish on your worst enemy,” said Linda Heming, a Sun City Lyme patient and co-founder of an Arizona nonprofit organization to educate patients about the disease.

“Patients typically struggle mightily to obtain diagnosis and treatment,” said Heming. That is why she and Tina Garcia started “Because, most Arizona physicians have no experience with Lyme, and lab tests are confusing, many cases have not been reported to State health officials. The lack of statistics is falsely reassuring. Those who work very closely with Lyme disease know there is a constant, low-level presence of it in the Valley.”


Warren Levin, M.D.(H), PLLC, FACN, FAAEM, FAAFP(ret), is recognized as the “East Coast Dean of Alternative Medicine,” having established the first alternative and integrative medical practice in New York City in 1974. He is in practice at Integrative and Environmental Medicine in Scottsdale, Ariz. 480-609-3961.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 2, April/May 2006.

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