Spirochetal bacteria are relatively harmless within the first days of infection, at worst, it may present with flu-like symptoms – fatigue, headaches, etc. After several weeks, however, the bacteria spread all over the body, affecting crucial body organs and causing severe symptoms. It all starts with a rash around the area of the tick bite, which is often a bull’s eye rash, although it can sometimes be solid red. That’s in the early stages, though, while the bacteria is localized in the skin, but it eventually finds its way into the bloodstream.
Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Lyme Disease
Once the bacteria, enters the bloodstream, it can spread to any region of the body and begins to affect major body organs, like the heart, joints, brain, in addition to affecting the nervous system.
Peripheric nervous system
Chronic Lyme disease attacks the nerves, causing neurological problems called neuroborreliosis in about 10% to 15% of untreated cases. These nervous problems start to present as facial palsy, whereby the affected person loses muscle tone around the face. Their face will then become slumped on one or both sides.
After several months without treatment, chronic neurological symptoms begin to appear which may present as shooting pains, numbness and even tingling in the feet and hands. Meningitis is also possible, causes severe headaches and a sensitivity to light. When the bacteria reaches the heart, it affects it’s electrical conduction system responsible for stimulating heart muscles to contract, causing abnormal heart rhythms.
Central nervous system
Lyme disease infection can also get to the spinal cord, causing inflammation in the spinal cords nerve roots. The person will often experience shooting pains that can be so severe that it begins interfering with sleeping patterns. This nerve pain radiating from the spine is referred to as Bannwarth syndrome, and can lead to disabling symptoms. As the problem continues to develop, it may even lead to permanent impairment of motor and sensory functions, which can cause the lower extremities to fail.
When the bacteria, starts to affect the individual mentally, the condition is referred to as mild encephalitis. This stage is identified by loss of memory, mood changes and a disturbance in sleep patterns. As Lyme disease progresses, this turns to full-blown encephalopathy, causing insomnia, depression and changes in personality.
If these symptoms are still unrecognized, chronic encephalomyelitis develops which causes cognitive impairment, migraines, vertigo, brain fog, bladder problems, awkward gait and even frank psychosis.
Bones and skin
Lyme disease can also affect the joints or the hips, shoulders, knees, elbows and wrists, leading to arthritis. Joints begin to erode, causing pain and swelling. It can also affect the skin, starting with a purplish patch of discolored skin around the backs of the hands or feet. The lesion gradually atrophies, but spreads around the skin for the next few months, making the skin weak and wrinkled, eventually making it completely dry and hairless.
How is Chronic Lyme Disease Diagnosed?
Most of Lyme disease symptoms can be confused with other illnesses, and therefore, diagnosis is primarily done through a study of the symptoms and possible exposure to infected ticks.
How is Chronic Lyme Disease Treated?
At these late stages, antibiotics have to be administered intravenously, and the treatment may last for one to four weeks. However, spirochetal bacteria have been seen to be persistent, even after the treatment, but antibodies will often be effective enough to keep the symptoms at bay.