Human blood is more complex than you may think. Blood contains plasma, white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Blood consists of four different parts, and each performs unique functions. Plasma is the liquid part of blood and is mostly water. It can have a yellowish tint. Without plasma, the other parts of blood would be unable to travel throughout the body.
Plasma aids in blood pressure, carrying electrolytes to muscles, blood clotting, and immunity. Photopheresis is a cell-based treatment that can help treat Lyme disease. Red blood cells originate in the bone marrow and are why blood is red. White blood cells help defend the body against diseases by eliminating bacteria and creating antibodies that fight bacteria that cause infections.
When you inhale, red blood cells take the oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. It also picks up carbon dioxide in the body and takes it back to the lungs so you can exhale it. Platelets are also made in bone marrow but are colorless. Its job is to prevent or stop bleeding by sticking to the lining of blood vessels. When a bacterium, like Borrelia burgdorferi that causes Lyme disease, enters your bloodstream, it can affect each part differently.
Lyme Bacteria and Blood
Lyme bacteria travel through your bloodstream by crawling along your blood vessel’s walls. It has an adhesive protein on its surface that helps it stick to the walls. Bacterium essentially attaches itself to the wall and then detaches. It does this repeatedly, moving closer to parts of the body with inflammation.
The bacterium’s grip is so intense it does not get flushed out by the blood flow. One researcher describes the bacteria as having a bungee cord attached, allowing it to speed up while traveling and slow down when it wants to explore tissues or other areas. If that’s not scary enough, researchers discovered the bungee cord strengthens with force.
Picture a child swinging on monkey bars. This is how many researchers describe the movements of Lyme bacteria. Lyme bacteria can damage plasma, platelets, and white and red blood cells as it travels through the bloodstream. As it spreads, your Lyme disease symptoms worsen. Treatments other than traditional antibiotics are necessary.
Treatment for Lyme Disease
Doctors who specialize in infectious diseases such as Lyme disease can provide an alternative, advanced treatments to eliminate Lyme bacteria from your body. Antibiotics are a great first effort; they work for many people when caught early. Others need something more.
Alternative treatments typically involve technology and equipment not available in a general practitioner’s office. You must seek a Lyme-literate doctor who can perform non-invasive therapies on an outpatient basis in their clinic. One of the most common treatments is called therapeutic apheresis.
Apheresis is the process of removing infected blood from your system and replacing it with healthy, donated blood. It requires equipment that separates your plasma, platelets, and white and red blood cells. Some doctors choose to treat your infected blood rather than use donated blood.
There are multiple apheresis methods. Their blood analysis will determine which infected blood parts need to be replaced with healthy parts. Photopheresis treatment is an option chosen by many Lyme-literate doctors.
What Is Photopheresis?
Photopheresis, or Extracorporeal Photopheresis (ECP), is a form of apheresis that focuses on treating white blood cells. After removing infected blood and separating its parts, photopheresis can begin. Your doctor will take a sample of white blood cells and treat them with a photoactive chemical, much like the chemical found in lemons, figs, and celery. Then, using ultraviolet light, your doctor will activate the chemical to treat the blood cells. Once activated, the blood is returned to your body.
Why Use Photopheresis?
The body was created with an immune system to defend itself against foreign substances such as Lyme bacteria. When the immune system detects bacteria, it sends out inflammation to crush and destroy them. However, with Lyme disease, the immune system has been fooled by Lyme bacteria, also called spirochetes, when discussing the immune system.
Spirochetes are incredibly clever and find ways to protect themselves from your immune system. They create biofilms, tiny shields that protect them from being flushed out of your system. They also know how to hide in the lining of cell tissues and walls, avoiding detection by the immune system.
Tricks like these cause the immune system to seek bacteria, constantly remaining in an inflamed state. In such cases, doctors find the best treatment course is strengthening your immune system to outsmart the spirochetes better. Photopheresis is one way to accomplish the mission of strengthening your immune system.
The process can be tailored to meet individual needs. One person may need it to reset their immune response, and others may need it to make an immune response stronger. Photopheresis works with white blood cells because it is those cells that fight bacteria. They are like soldiers protecting your body.
Photopheresis Facts to Know
Photopheresis is a simple, safe procedure for treating Lyme disease. Below are some facts about the process:
- It takes between two and four hours;
- Multiple follow-up treatments are recommended for the best results;
- It is performed using intravenous lines to extract and insert blood;
- You must have an adequate blood cell count and platelet count to perform the procedure;
- Side effects are rare or mild, but some report dizziness, nausea, flushing, and cold feet;
- You may need a blood thinner to help your blood go through the machine;
- You may be more sensitive to the sun for a day after the procedure;
- You must tell your doctor about all medications, vitamins, or minerals you are taking.
Lyme disease does not have to control your life. Photopheresis is one of the numerous procedures your Lyme literate doctor can administer to help you get rid of Lyme bacteria and get back to living the active and healthy lifestyle you desire.