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Neuropsychiatric manifestations of Lyme Disease Part I


Click here for part 2.

Click here for part 3.

“Doctor, I can’t go on like this. I would rather be dead than live a lifetime with this anxiety and depression, feeling as terrible as I do. Everyone tells me I am crazy – they look at me as though I had two heads, when I describe my symptoms. They want to give me antidepressants, anti-anxiety medicines. They want to put me in the hospital on suicide watch. I’m not suicidal. But I don’t want to go on living like this.”

These are almost the exact words of a patient whom I saw recently – a patient who had been perfectly healthy until… something happened, and she was not the same afterwards.

The thing that happened might be a hike in the woods and a tick bite. It might be a hike in the woods and the summer flu without noticing a tick bite. It might be exposure to a chemical spill at work. It might be an acute infection. It might be breast implants. It might be an infection in a surgical wound.

Whatever the precipitating cause, there appears to be an overload of the immune system against a toxin, with persistence of symptoms in many different organ systems. And unless someone thinks to do a valid Lyme test, the existence of the disease may never be discovered.

The scientific community uses the principle of Ockham’s Razor to determine the likelihood of a given explanation for a given set of facts. That principle, attributed to a 14th century Franciscan monk named William of Ockham, states: “multiple factors are not to be invoked unless necessary”.

Necessity, of course, is dependent upon one’s own philosophical view of the world. In the world of allopathic medicine, if we can’t see it, it does not exist. Lyme disease is something that is an acute infection, easily treatable with a few days of antibiotics. If there are persistent symptoms after antibiotics, this is certainly not because the organism has not been adequately treated. Certainly, the patient has developed an autoimmune disease, or a psychiatric illness, or is simply depressed, or a hypochondriac.

As Albert Einstein wrote in his Autobiographical Notes, after publishing the paper on Brownian motion which confirmed the reality of molecules, "The antipathy of these scholars toward atomic theory can indubitably be traced back to their positivistic philosophical attitude. This is an interesting example of the fact that even scholars of audacious spirit and fine instinct can be obstructed in the interpretation of facts by philosophical prejudices." One example of such prejudicial thinking can be read in an article published in the official publication of the IDSA, discussing the “marketing” of “unorthodox therapies”.[1] Emotionality in presumably scientific publications does cause one to wonder about the objectivity of the information in the publication.

From one perspective, it is much easier to think of Lyme disease – infection caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi and several of its friends – as a simple bacterial infection, easily treatable with a few days worth of antibiotics. However, our allopathic colleagues seem to be oblivious to the fact that another spirochete – Treponema pallidum, the causative agent of syphilis – infects our bodies in three distinct phases, may infect every organ of the body, is extremely difficult to treat once it has passed the acute stage of the chancre, and can cause severe neuropsychiatric illness due to its presence in the brain.

It’s not such a great leap to think that if the causative organism of syphilis can do it, a similar organism causative of Lyme disease can also behave in a similar way.

Let us look at the peer-reviewed literature on the subject of Lyme disease and “mental illness”.

A multitude of articles assert that Lyme disease (and co-infections) is a cause of cognitive impairment and dementia.[2] Treatment-resistant depression is another manifestation.[3] Borrelia burgdorferi causes the body to produce anti-neuronal antibodies, presumably because part of the organism’s protein coat has similar composition to proteins in our nerve cells. In addition, the organism elicits multiple compounds which produce inflammation in the system.[4]

One recent article declares: “The very presence of the [borrelia] organisms in the brains following supposedly effect treatment for Lyme disease in contradictory and should be the starting point for diagnosis and treatment.”[5]

Another recent article reports the relationship between suicide and Lyme and associated diseases.[6]

Inflammation appears to be a common denominator of Lyme-associated psychiatric illness.[7]

Remember that ticks can carry a multitude of infectious organisms which do not appear to harm the tick in the slightest, but which can be deadly to humans. An excellent history of the discovery of Lyme disease and its co-infections can be found on Dr. Daniel Cameron’s website.[8]

If there is such a strong correlation between inflammation and Lyme disease and neuro-psychiatric illness, does it not seem reasonable to at least look for a connection to Lyme disease in anyone who suddenly develops neuro-psychiatric illness? We can drug the patients, or we can look for a potentially treatable condition such as Lyme disease. To me, looking for potentially treatable conditions does not fall into the category of unorthodox alternative therapies marketed to a gullible public.

Looking for potentially treatable conditions is good medicine. It is one of the tasks assigned to those who are in the healing professions – whatever their licensure.

[1] Lantos, Paul M., et al. "Unorthodox alternative therapies marketed to treat Lyme disease." Clinical Infectious Diseases 60.12 (2015): 1776-1782.

[2] Almeida, O. P., and N. T. Lautenschlager. "Dementia associated with infectious diseases." International psychogeriatrics 17 (2005): S65.

[3] Asadipooya K, Dehghanian A, Omrani GR, Abbasi F. Short-course treatment in neurobrucellosis: A study in Iran. Neurol India 2011;59:101-3.

[4] Bransfield, Robert C. "Suppl 1: The Psychoimmunology of Lyme/Tick-Borne Diseases and its Association with Neuropsychiatric Symptoms." The open neurology journal 6 (2012): 88.

[5] Allen, Herbert B., et al. "Lyme disease: Beyond erythema migrans." J Clin Exp Dermatol Res 7 (2016): 330.

[6] Bransfield, Robert C. "Suicide and Lyme and associated diseases." Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment 13 (2017): 1575.

[7] Bransfield, Robert C. "Relationship of Inflammation and Autoimmunity to Psychiatric Sequelae in Lyme Disease." Psychiatric Annals 42.9 (2012): 337-341.