According to the Global Autoimmune Institute, at least 8% of Americans, or 24 million, have an autoimmune disorder.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 476,000 Americans contract Lyme disease annually. At one time, Lyme disease was found mainly in the Northeastern United States. Today, all fifty states have reported cases of Lyme disease.
Many people wonder if Lyme disease is an autoimmune disorder. Unfortunately, the answer is both yes and no. An explanation of this answer is provided below, along with easy-to-understand explanations of the immune system, autoimmune disorders, Lyme disease, and how they are all connected.
The Body’s Immune System
You are born with an immune system, the body’s protector from illness. It knows every part of your body. The immune system notices when something that has never been there before, such as bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens, enters your body.
As you grow, your body develops an acquired immune system that adapts to the substances it is exposed to throughout life. For example, if you get a flu shot, your body begins creating antibodies of that strain to fight it if you encounter it in the future.
The Body’s Immune Response
The way the body’s immune system works is impressive. It will notice changes in your cells, especially damaged cells. To the immune system, a foreign invader like bacteria causes cell damage. Any foreign substance is an antigen, and an immune response is activated when detected.
Inflammation is the immune system’s response to unwanted bacteria. Inflammation travels to the spot of damaged cells, heals them, and destroys the bacteria causing the damage. An example is when you are stung by a bee. When you are stung, histamine is released into your body. Soon after the sting, the area around the bite mark becomes red, swells, and may be painful to touch. These symptoms result from the inflammatory response, which combats the bacteria, damaging cells and tissues. The inflammation works like an antihistamine, reducing symptoms and helping the area heal.
Autoimmune Disorders: When Things Go Wrong
When the body’s immune system works at its best, it can distinguish between good and bad antigens. Some people have broken immune systems that cannot differentiate between good and bad antigens. The body begins attacking normal, healthy cells, mistaking them for foreign invaders. Your body is attacking itself, causing an autoimmune disorder.
Currently, there are between 80 and 100 autoimmune disorders affecting people around the world. Conflicting reports exist on whether Lyme disease is one of the many autoimmune disorders. The Autoimmune Association notes it is not classified as an autoimmune disorder even though the symptoms match. Instead, chronic Lyme disease is described as causing an autoimmune response.
The main difference is that an autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system attacks itself. Lyme disease occurs when infected with the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, transmitted from a deer tick.
Lyme Disease and the Body
Deer ticks grow through various life stages and must feed on the blood of warm-blooded mammals to survive. They feed on small animals in the early stages, such as moles, birds, and rabbits. As the ticks grow, so do their hosts. They attach to deer, bears, raccoons, and humans. When a tick attaches to a host infected by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, it also contracts the infection by feeding on its blood.
Then, if the tick attaches to a human, it will transmit the Borrelia bacteria to the person’s bloodstream.
As soon as the Lyme bacteria enter the bloodstream, they reproduce.
Lyme Disease and the Immune System
Yes, your immune system, if functioning correctly, will recognize Lyme bacteria and initiate an immune response. Unfortunately, inflammation is not always strong enough to battle Lyme bacteria. One reason is that Borrelia burgdorferi, often called spirochetes, are cleverly protecting themselves from detection.
They create biofilms, like tiny shields, to confuse the immune system, which is persistent in its search for foreign invaders. Rather than give up, the immune system continues to seek out the bacteria, traveling throughout the body without success. You are left with the effects of inflammation in your joints, neck, muscles, nervous system, and brain.
When your body is in constant inflammation, you are susceptible to disease. Like an autoimmune disorder, your immune system attacks and damages healthy cells and tissues in its drive to find bacteria.
Lyme and Autoimmune Disease Symptoms
Although they are not the same, Lyme and autoimmune diseases can have the same symptoms. Getting an accurate diagnosis is crucial. As soon as you recognize any of the following symptoms, seek consultation with an infectious disease specialist or Lyme-literate physician. The symptoms that can come on during flare-ups include the following:
- Swelling, redness, and pain in the joints
- Flu-like symptoms
- Digestive problems
- Skin rashes
- Feeling tired when you should have energy
- Trouble concentrating
- Numbness and tingling in hands and feet
These symptoms, common to Lyme disease, are common to most autoimmune disorders and other mental or physical health conditions. Depression and anxiety, for example. Being misdiagnosed can lead to a worsening of your symptoms and chronic disease, which will hinder your quality of life.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Another reason it is imperative to get the correct diagnosis is that Lyme disease and autoimmune disorder treatments are different. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics, and autoimmune disorders are treated with short-term immunosuppressive therapies and disease-specific medicines. Both conditions can be treated with alternative treatments such as therapeutic apheresis, detox protocols, and immunotherapies.
The good news about both disorders is that they are treatable at every stage. The key is finding the right doctor. Seek help from a specialist with the knowledge and equipment to quickly and effectively treat both disorders.
Don’t be afraid to search outside the United States and Canada for the best doctor. You can spend months and years visiting different doctors in your area, spending more money than necessary. Or you can seek treatment from a renowned clinic, like Lyme Mexico, and get back to living the life you deserve.