With the number of confirmed Lyme disease cases on the rise, the general population is becoming more aware of the primary physical indicators of the disease: a tick bite, a bull-eye rash around the area, fever, and joint pain. What most people, and even physicians are unaware of, however, are the devastating tides of neurological effects this disease can manifest.

Lyme disease is a major problem yet, tragically, many people fail to receive the proper treatment,” says Bernard Raxlen, MD, a Greenwich, CT, psychiatrist and secretary of the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS), a medical organization dedicated to ongoing research and increasing public awareness of this illness.

How Lyme Affects the Brain
“Lyme produces a microedema, or swelling in the brain,” says Raxlen. “This affects your ability to process information. It’s like finding out that there’s LSD in the punch, and you’re not sure what’s going to happen next or if you’re going to be in control of your own thoughts.”

In fact, 70% of people dealing with the effects of this disease also report changes in their thinking such as memory loss and reduced mental sharpness.

This fact is backed by neurologists from the American Academy of Neurology who say that patients with nervous system Lyme disease may also have one or more of the following symptoms: sciatica-like nerve pain, weakness or numbness due to nerve damage, or changes in cognitive function such as thinking, reasoning, remembering, and imagining.

The Neuro-Psychiatric Toll of Lyme Disease
Increasing evidence is emerging and pointing to the connection between the neurological and psychiatric manifestations of this disease. Debra Solomon, MD, a psychiatrist who practices in North Kingston, RI, says, “Most people come to see me because they’ve got something wrong that nobody else can figure out.” Over fifteen years ago Solomon was confronted with a medical mystery. More and more patients were coming in with the same group of symptoms—fatigue, headaches, migrating joint and muscle pain, accompanied by anxiety, depression, and memory problems. When one of her patients turned out to have Lyme disease, she tested the others, and found that nearly all were positive.

Lyme patients often say, “There’s a wall in my brain and I can’t seem to move my thoughts from the back to the front.” “This arises from encephalopathy, an inflammation in the brain that affects cognitive function,” Solomon explains. Psychiatric Lyme has been linked with virtually every psychiatric diagnosis and can affect people of all ages and from every walk of life.

The Attack on the Nervous System
As Lyme disease progresses, it can attack the nervous system, producing learning disabilities, mood swings, anxiety and depression, panic attacks, obsessive behavior, sudden rages and other psychiatric diagnoses. “When this happens, we’re looking at a completely different syndrome and one that is harder to cure,” says Raxlen.

The findings of a recent European study show that psychiatric in-patients are nearly twice as likely as the average population to test positive for Lyme. The National Institutes of Health are sponsoring a major study of neuropsychiatric Lyme disease in an effort to determine specific changes in the brain.

Lyme Disease Leads to a Diminished Quality of Life
Chronic Lyme Disease is a catch-22 situation with no escape because those who suffer from the disease often find it hard to think and perform daily tasks. In LDo’s chronic Lyme survey, approximately 42% of respondents reported that they stopped working as a result of Lyme disease, with 24% reporting that they received disability as a result of chronic Lyme disease, while 25% reported having to reduce their work hours or change the nature of their work due to Lyme disease. Those respondents who were able to continue working reported missing 15 days of work during the previous 240-day work year, and they reported an inability to concentrate while at work during 42 days of work in the preceding year due to illness.

Symptoms of cognitive loss from Lyme disease include:

  • Memory impairment or loss
  • Slowed processing of information
  • Word-finding problems with reduced verbal fluency
  • Dyslexia and problems dealing with numbers
  • Visual/spatial processing impairment (losing things, getting lost, disorganization)
  • Poor abstract reasoning
  • Losses in fields of attention/executive functions such as inability to maintain divided or sustained attention
  • Poor auditory and mental tracking and scanning (loss in ability to follow daily affairs, which is complicated by persistent distractibility)

Neurological symptoms and signs include:

  • Headaches
  • Neuralgia/neuropathic pain, for example pain which may have a pricking/stinging quality, with excessive sensitivity to light touch or pressure
  • Cranial nerve disorders: facial palsy (sometimes involving both sides of the face), double vision, drooping eyelid, numbness pain and tingling of the face, hearing loss, dizziness and tinnitus
  • Seizures
  • Autonomic dysfunction – problems in regulation of pulse and blood pressure
  • States that mimic other defined neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, MS, Bell’s palsy, stroke, and ALS
  • In children, indications of neurological involvement include behavior changes, learning difficulties and headaches

Some patients have developed Lyme-related psychiatric symptoms:

  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Rapid mood swings, episodes of rage, crying, reduced impulse control
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior
  • Anxiety/Panic attacks
  • Mood swings that may mimic bipolar disorder (manic-depression)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Sleep Disorders
  • An Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD)-like syndrome
  • Autism-like syndrome
  • Delirium
  • A progressive dementia

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Proven Formula
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Real Results
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Results RNA is an innovative biopharmaceutical research firm headquartered in Utah.

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