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Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I had a recent conversation with a patient. I told her we need to sort out other co-morbidities. Co-infections? No. This was a new term for this very Lyme literate patient. I was not saying the patient did not have Lyme disease. Not at all. Patients with Lyme disease frequently have a variety of other medical problems which contribute to their illness to varying extents. And, in some cases, it is not Lyme which is making the patient ill, regardless of what the Western Blot says: if the signs and symptoms do not fit -- Lyme may not be the primary issue. Or, perhaps Lyme's contribution to the illness is minor. For example:

Fatigue--profound fatigue, is almost invariably a prominent symptom. What else causes this? Other causes include hypothyroidism, B12 deficiency, anemia, depression and insomnia. After these are excluded, my patients are sent for sleep studies. Sleep disorders are a major cause of fatigue. Lyme patients have higher rates of sleep disorders compared to the general population. Patients may have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or central sleep apnea, a brain disease. Sleep apnea is associated with numerous other medical disorders: cardiovascular disease, diabetes and others. Sleep apnea is also associated with neuro-cognitive dysfunction -- sound familiar? And sleep apnea is associated with alterations of immune function. Specifically, high levels of inflammatory cytokines, TNF alpha, interleukins have been measured in these patients. Sleep apnea is a significant co-morbidity which interfers with the healing process.

Oher sleep orders are common as well. Restless leg syndrome is a common cause of poor quality, non-restorative sleep. This condition may be respond to supplementation with high doses of iron, sometimes intravenously, based on ferritin levels (it is not clear why these patients have profound depletion of iron). This movement disorder shares common features with Parkinson's disease, a movement disorder mediated by dopamine deficiency in the basal ganglia, a deep area of the brain. Both disorders are treated with dopamine agonists such as Mirapex. This should not be confused with cortical brain dysfunction--loss of executive dysfunction--related to insufficient dopamine activity in the cerebral cortex. This is treated with dopamine agonists such as stimulants which work in these areas of the brain.

A second sleep test, an MSLT can evaluate for narcolepsy and other disorders. Narcolepsy has been considered a disorder of arousal but is now understood to be a disorder of sleep. This may be effectively treated with Xyrem, a drug which is safe but suffers a bad reputation.

Sleep disorders: a common co-morbidity, cause fatigue and cognitive impairments, as well as mood changes and irritability. Not to say I don't start Lyme therapy early in the process - I must also fix the "non-Lyme" to see what remains.

This is but one example of numerous potential co-morbidities.

Patients may have: rare genetic disorders, rare metabolic disorders - or acquired mutisytem-disorders. One of my patient suffers with stiff man syndrome. This is a rare autoimmune disease caused by destruction of a GABA precursor. Another suffers with a toxic yeast syndrome which mimics chronic Lyme. Neuro-cognitive changes and new onset headaches may be caused a brain tumors or other cancers. It is know that Lyme may be associated with brain tumors.

Medical texts are ripe with esoteric diseases: mystery diagnoses. These are the patients that seek our help. It is not always Lyme.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Text book

A new patient walked in: a youthful 29 year old female. She wasn't feeling as good as she looked. She suffered with diffuse, migratory muscle and joint pain. She had tingling in her hands, shortness of breath, night sweats, headaches and pain on the soles of her feet. Her brain was foggy: poor concentration, focus and slow processing. She asked me if I thought she might have Lyme disease. I replied: "My G-d, you are right out of the textbook." Then I realized: " Well no, there actually is no text book." One has to be written.

She had a tick bite, a small "seed" tick, 2 years ago. It was accompanied by a red rash, maybe 5cm in size based on her description. "It wasn't a bulls eye."

She saw her family doctor. He told her she was just getting old (29?), that's why she had the symptoms. I asked how old the doctor was. Ancient. She talked her doctor into ordering a Lyme test. The Western Blot showed 28 and 41 bands only. Not Lyme disease.

Her family doctor referred her to: a rheumatologist, a neurologist and an infectious disease specialist. She figured it must be one disease -- she only needed one doctor. Smart girl. An Internet search led her to Lyme disease and then to me.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Doxy failure

14 months ago, a 47 year old male first consulted with me. His illness started after a physical injury sustained working in his garden. He first developed low back pain -- diagnosed as a strain. He went on to develop knee pain, fevers to 102, a red streaky rash on his abdomen, sweating and color changes in his fingers. He went to the ER: he had been ill for 3 weeks. A two tier, CDC surveillance test was positive for Lyme. He was treated with 3 weeks of Doxycyline and felt better. His past medical history is positive for Chrohn's disease.

Three month later he developed recurrent, progressive symptoms -- muscle pain -- increasing joint pain -- profound fatigue, and, drenching night sweats. New neurological symptoms appeared: numbness and tingling, memory loss and cognitive dysfunction.

He presented to me for further care. A 13 band WB showed 3/3 IgM bands. Non diagnostic Bb IgG WB bands were present. He was seronegative for Babesia microti/duncani. He was treated for chronic Lyme disease and Babesiosis, diagnosed clinically.

After many months of antibiotic therapy his disease is in remission, still on antibiotics.

Additional data: C6 peptide ELISA had been 6.41 initially and is n0w 2.3. C4a levels have been elevated. CD 57 levels have been normal. A wet mount showed no bacteria.

His previously active inflammatory bowel disease is now quiescent. A recent colonoscopy was normal.

Three weeks of Doxy for acute Lyme failed. This may be more frequent that commonly held. It has been suggested by some that this is due to co-infections. I am not sure. The average person, with an intact immune system, should be able to throw off both Babesia and Bartonella.

Perhaps in some cases, Lyme is able to sequester itself quickly. Other explanations may be offered. Perhaps in some, already-infected asymptomatic patients, clinical Lyme is triggered by a new infection. The other possibility is a bit more frightening. Perhaps strains of Lyme are now resistance to Doxy. This could explain some Doxy failures with response to other treatments, such as Amox/Biaxin. This patient did respond to Doxy at first. But, partial resistance is know to occur with other bacteria. This is all thinking out loud conjecture.

Lyme disease is associated with a multitude of autoimmune diseases. Crohn's and ulcerative colitis are both autoimmune diseases. Coincidence?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Lyme Rage

A 36 year old female was treated for severe Lyme disease and neuroborreliosis. A course of IV antibiotics was successful 2 years ago. I explained to her the need for maintenance therapy. She took oral antibiotics for a few months, but tiring of the medicines, she sought alternatives, such as A Rife machine. She had been treated for Lyme, Babesia and Bartonella. Her case had been well documented: abnormal MRI, abnormal SPECT scan and multiple positive Western Blot Lyme bands. The aches and pains returned, slowly. The mental confusion returned, slowly. She returned for further treatment 6 months ago. This happy-go-lucky soul had turned into someone else. She was was filled with unbridled rage. She told me she literally felt like killing someone. She was just waiting for that someone to cross her path so she could act out her rage. She meant business.

Several months into therapy she returned to her normal self. The anger disappeared gradually, and then it was gone--after treatment with a second course of IV therapy. Now, several months off IVs, she is largely symptom free, the disease controlled with oral antibiotics. The smile has returned to her face. She is once again a kind and gentle soul.