Why Is Lyme Disease Called the Great Imitator?

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Arguably, one of the best ways to avoid suspicion is to make sure there are plenty of other suspects. Borrelia burgdorferi, the spirochete primarily responsible for Lyme disease, is an expert at hiding in plain sight by pretending to be something else and shifting the blame to another condition.

Infiltrating the System

The spirochete B. burgdorferi has been titled “the great imitator” because of its amazing ability to mimic nearly any chronic condition. In general, spirochetes have the ability to alter their cell wall proteins, making them exceptionally good at tricking the body’s immune system into thinking they are something else.

In addition to their standard spiral shape, they can morph into four additional configurations: cystic, granular, L-form, and biofilm. Not only does this alteration of form perplex the body but it also challenges those who are Lyme literate.

The bacteria in question is also excellent at hiding under circumstances such as reacting to recent antibiotic usage, or remaining dormant for long periods. Both of these situations can promote incorrect diagnoses.

Furthermore, there are 5 subspecies of B. burgdorferi, with over 100 strains in the U.S. and 300 worldwide! That level of diversity adds yet another layer of complexity to identification. With all of these factors working in its favor it is no surprise that Lyme disease is one of the most difficult conditions to diagnose.

In part, Lyme disease escapes view because standard tests miss over 90% of chronic Lyme disease cases. This is because they are designed to diagnose acute conditions as opposed to those that have progressed further.

In addition, the standard test for Lyme disease is far outdated, no change since 1975, and commonly results with negative returns of 50-80% of the time with less than 15% specificity.

Moreover, one third of all patients do not report or recall being bitten during their diagnosis, which is generally used as a primary marker of identifying Lyme disease. However, this is not surprising because the infection may occur a significant amount of time after the bite and the bite may not be painful or leave a mark.

Common Features of Lyme Disease

Chronic conditions such as Lyme disease have a variety of complex factors that can point to a variety of different symptoms, some of which are debilitating. Below are symptoms associated with Lyme disease that are shared among a number of other conditions.

  • Swelling of Lymph Nodes
  • Swelling or rash at bite location
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Neck stiffness
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint and tendon pain
  • Arthritis (usually in the knees)
  • Tingling and numbness in the extremities
  • Facial paralysis
  • Panic attacks
  • Weakness
  • Twitching
  • Depression
  • Sudden mood Swings (bipolar disorder)

Chronic Lyme Disease

Because the spirochete responsible for Lyme disease is a slow growing bacteria it is important to aggressively treat it even when symptoms subside in order to ensure it does not return later. In chronic cases, if not fully treated, Lyme disease symptoms can reemerge months to years after treatment is completed. Patients have reported symptoms in varying degrees of severity: chronic fatigue, memory impairment, dyslexia, poor visual/spatial cognition, slowed comprehension, seizures, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and sleep disorders. Lyme disease is rarely considered the culprit for these symptoms due to their prevalence in a number of other chronic conditions. Some of the more common conclusions include chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, and ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Scoliosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Who’s the Real Culprit

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Recent tests have shown that a significant number of patients that had previously been diagnosed with CFS had actually contracted Lyme disease. The common traits of disrupting hormone balance, leading to an immense drop in energy, is likely the mask that the infection hid behind in order to maintain anonymity.

As stated before, many of the common symptoms shared between these two conditions such as weakness, depression, and a profound exhaustion can leave the patient unable to leave their bed.

Fibromyalgia: Normally recognized by extensive muscle and joint pain, fibromyalgia is a common diagnosis for those suffering from a chronic B. burgdorferi infection (chronic Lyme disease). In fact, Lyme disease expert Dr. Richard Horowitz stated, in an article for Psychology Today, in treating over 1200 patients he found that B. burgdorferi and other pathogens spread by ticks tended to be the primary cause of their fibromyalgia symptoms.

Amyotrophic Lateral Scoliosis – Lou Gehrig’s disease: Late stage infection with B. burgdorferi, the main component in Lyme disease (or neuroborreliosis in cases involving the brain), has been shown to mimic or in fact contribute to ALS. Symptoms shared between the two conditions are not all inclusive but in early stages many of them are. Most of these symptoms involve neurological functions such as speech, inability to focus, difficulty recalling memories, irritability, and other cognitive or behavioral changes.

Unmasking Lyme Disease

It can be a challenge to sift through all the symptoms and pin-point the exact issue. All of these chronic conditions have similar symptoms that have an immense impact on your well-being. With improper diagnosis leading to improper treatment those symptoms are likely to stay.

Thankfully, Lyme disease, as well as these other chronic conditions, is treatable through multi-systemic approach. Richard Horowitz suggested the term “Multi-Systemic Infectious Disease Syndrome” in describing sixteen recognized factors, triggers, and disease processes that overlapped among CFS and Fibromyalgia which can cause symptoms to carry on indefinitely.

In treating any of these conditions it is critical to use a multi-system approach that includes detecting underlying infections, hormone imbalances, environmental factors, sleep disturbances, digestive problems, and energy issues/fatigue.

Treatment that is made up of a combination of prescription and/or natural antibiotics, antiviral, antiparasitic, immune modulators, hormone balancers, nutritional supplements, low dose immunotherapy and ozone therapy creates a comprehensive treatment. By using such a treatment you can combat other co-infectors such as B. burgdorferi when treating chronic conditions.

For more information about Lyme disease, watch as Dr. Garabedian more fully explains the condition.

About Holtorf Medical Group

The Holtorf Medical Group specializes in optimizing quality of life and being medical detectives to uncover the underlying cause of symptoms, rather than just prescribing medications to cover-up the symptoms. We are experts in natural, prescription bioidentical hormone replacement and optimization, complex endocrine dysfunction, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease.

We’ve dedicated our practice to providing you the best in evidenced-based, integrative medicine that’s not only safe and effective, but provides measurable results.