Borrelia burgdorferi, is a bacterial infection that results from an infected tick, originally from mammals or birds, biting and injecting the microorganism into a human host. Individuals treated early in infection are likely to recover completely; however, delaying treatment may result in long recovery times, or result in disease that will last for years, or for life.
Infection Affects Multiple Organ Systems
Lyme disease can affect any organ or multiple systems including, skin, joints, nervous system, muscles, and skin. Early symptoms are a red, expanding rash, erythema migrans, that often appears at the tick bite site, and flu-like symptoms such as body aches, fever, chills, headache, and fatigue.
Left untreated, unfocused severe pain may, irregular heart beat and other heart problems, chronic inflammation of the joints (especially the knees, i.e., Lyme arthritis), liver inflammation (hepatitis) and eye problems. Unremitting fatigue, memory problems, and brain “fog” may also accompany the disease.
Incomplete recovery from Lyme disease may result in significant neurological problems, including Bell’s palsy (paralysis of one side of the face), weakness or numbness of limbs, impaired muscle movement, and meningitis (inflammation of brain membranes).
Twenty to fifty percent of patients with neurological issues may continue to experience difficulties for years.
Immune Responses to Lyme Infection
The extent of recovery from Lyme disease depends on factors such as the numbers of bacteria initially injected and the types of immune responses triggered by the infection.
As with healing from most infections, recovery from Lyme disease is a highly complex process requiring the correct interplay of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines, immune regulating molecules. Successful recovery requires a homeostatic, a balanced immune attack with enough inflammation to kill the organism without damaging by-stander cells and organs.
For example, the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) stimulates inflammation but is also, depending on what the body needs, able to decrease inflammatory responses. (IL-6 is also triggers pain receptors and helps nerve cells regenerate.) Transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) is another cytokine that helps the body control the amount of inflammation produced in response to infection.
Another cytokine, tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) is an inflammatory cytokine that stimulates certain immune cells to find, engulf, and digest invading organisms. Mice susceptible to Lyme disease are unable to manufacture enough of this factor which may account for their susceptibility.
In humans as well, patients that were recovering well had significantly higher levels of tumor necrosis factor-α compared to those with on-going disease. Once again, these responses likely reflect the powerful inflammatory response that helps the body eliminate the disease.
Additionally, recovering infected individuals had higher levels of transforming growth factor than individuals with severe symptoms. These findings suggest that transforming growth factor was successfully limiting the amount of inflammation being produced in response to infection.
Similarly, in mice with Lyme arthritis, animals that did best were those in which high TNF-α cytokine levels helped kill the bacteria, followed by an aggressive IL-6 response that dampened the inflammatory response.
In further support of these findings, patients with rashes (early infection) had high levels of the anti-inflammatory cytokine, transforming growth factor, as compared to those who had more severe neurological involvement.
The body uses inflammatory responses to protect itself from infection and heal itself. Inflammation helps the body destroy organisms, almost as if the body was “burning” the infection out. However, just like a forest fire, if inflammation is not well controlled the person with Lyme disease may suffer symptoms for years or for life. This is why it is essential for the body to produce a balanced, immune inflammatory response to infection.
Contact Dr. Hellen at: 302.265.3870 (ET), DrHellen@DrHellenGreenblatt.info, or by using the contact form: http://drhellengreenblatt.info/contact-dr-hellen.