Early Stage Lyme Disease Treatment
If Lyme Disease is diagnosed within the first few weeks after infection and treated with antibiotics for long enough, it can frequently be cured. Unfortunately, there’s no general agreement on what “long enough” means. Most doctors prescribe an antibiotic for two to three weeks, four weeks tops. Often this is not enough.
Here’s why: The Borrelia bacteria can exist three ways in the body – as spirochetes traveling around in the bloodstream, in cell-wall deficient form hitching a ride inside red blood cells, or as cysts hiding where antibiotics are unlikely to reach them. Since it takes four months (120 days) for red blood cells to be completely replaced, any cell-wall deficient Lyme not killed in a few weeks (14-30 days) are free to replicate and cause more harm. Encysted Lyme can also reactivate.
Traditional Lyme Treatment
The most common oral antibiotics prescribed for Lyme are doxycycline or minocycline for adults and amoxicillin for pregnant women and children. Erythromycin, azythromycin, and clarithromycin (Biaxin) are also used, usually in combination with another drug. Ceftin or Suprax are used orally, or Rocephin and Claforan intravenously. Flagyl is used for the cystic form. Medication choice depends on a number of personal and health factors. Typically antibiotic therapy needs to be changed from time to time when a patient reaches a plateau in recovery.
People whose symptoms don’t go away or get worse after 2-4 weeks of antibiotic treatment may have other infections as well. A large number of Lyme patients have Babesia, Bartonella, and/or Ehrlichia. Various strains of mycoplasma and chlamydia may be also be present. Furthermore, any of the 8 herpes viruses humans get, including Epstein Barr virus and Cytomegalovirus, can be reactivated.
The immune system can usually get rid of co-infections if Lyme is treated early when their load is typically low. Otherwise, full-blown co-infections further complicate the healing process. Many of these infections are immunosuppressive, meaning they weaken the immune system so it can’t work properly. Lyme won’t go away until co-infections are also treated.
Many Lyme patients understandably worry about using long-term antibiotics. Overusing antibiotics can harm the body and lead to drug-resistant bacteria. However, most Lyme-literate doctors will tell you that the effects of being on antibiotics for a long time are minimal compared to the crippling disability and most-certain death if Lyme and co-infections are not treated.
The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) has been at the forefront of Lyme education and treatment since 1999. In 2004 they published their evidence-based, peer-reviewed Lyme disease guidelines. Another group, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), offers far more conservative guidelines. Unfortunately an ongoing political battle between these two medical groups makes getting treated effectively for Lyme very difficult.
Alternative Lyme Disease Treatment
There are many alternative, non-antibiotic treatments for Lyme, with new ones popping up regularly. Some Lyme patients have reported success with alternative therapies, but it’s wise to do your homework before heading in this direction. Many of these modalities are experimental and not medically certified for Lyme; they could ultimately be harmful or even fatal. If you want to use alternative treatments, make sure you do it with the supervision of a qualified medical professional.
Some of the more popular therapies, in alphabetical order (not a comprehensive list) are:
Acupuncture, andrographis, aromatherapy, artemisia, bee venom, Chinese herbs, cat’s claw, colloidal silver, colonics, colostrum, cranial sacral therapy, dietary changes, digestive enzymes, far-infrared sauna, garlic, glutathione, grapefruit seed extract, homeopathy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, Japanese knotwood, liquid oxygen, lymphatic drainage, olive leaf extract, ozone therapy, resveratrol, Rife machine, salt and Vitamin C, spilanthes, Swedish sauna, tai chi, and various combinations of vitamins and minerals.
Many doctors use both antibiotics and alternative therapies to treat Lyme.
Since spirochetal bacteria release toxins when they die (unlike other bacterial infections), dead Lyme can cause as much trouble leaving the body as when they’re alive. Detoxification can overtax the organs responsible for clean up – the liver, intestinal tract, and kidneys, especially if it happens too fast.
Many people call the uncomfortable but normal side effects of Lyme detox a “healing crisis,” “flare up,” or “die-off.” The more technical name is Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction.
This reaction (also called Herxheimer or Herx for short) is named for two European dermatologists working independently at the turn of the 20th century on the treatment of syphilis (also a spirochete). Adolf Jarisch, an Austrian, first reported this treatment reaction to in 1895. Karl Herxheimer a German, followed in 1902.
A Herxheimer reaction can include headache, swollen glands, skin lesions, joint or muscle pain, chills, cold hands and feet, excessive perspiration, low-grade fever, a rise or drop in blood pressure, nausea, constipation or diarrhea, itching, hives and rash. Other symptoms have also been reported.
If the Herxheimer lasts more than a few hours, it may be necessary to decrease or temporarily stop treatment until it goes away. Sometimes hives and rash are mistaken for an allergic reaction to the drugs being used. Close follow-up by a qualified medical professional is therefore a must to help manage the erratic course that Lyme treatment typically takes.
For Late Stage Lyme, see our post on Chronic Lyme for more information on what happens if Lyme isn’t treated or isn’t treated adequately and symptoms persist beyond 6 months.
How quickly a person heals from chronic Lyme Disease depends on many factors, including:
- how long they’ve had it
- how serious their symptoms are
- how their body reacts to treatment
- their financial resources
- the state of their mind and emotions
- the quality of support they get from others
In a nutshell, healing Lyme can be a frustrating, depressing, and lonely road. Lyme is like no other infectious disease we’ve known before. Those who have it and those closest to them should take Lyme very seriously.
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