Lyme disease occurs when an infected deer tick transmits the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria into your bloodstream. The infection travels through your bloodstream to all parts of your body, including the heart.
When Lyme infection enters the tissues and lining of the heart, it is called Lyme Carditis, which occurs in one to five percent of persons diagnosed with Lyme disease.
That number is likely much higher because Lyme is commonly misdiagnosed by general practitioners. Lyme disease symptoms mimic those of other disorders, including medical and psychological conditions. Also, the only two Lyme disease tests used by doctors are less than 50% accurate. The ELISA and the Western Block tests, even when used together, only test for the active antibodies of Lyme bacteria.
The problem? Lyme bacteria are intelligent and can quickly go inactive and hide in the lining of your blood cells. They also create biofilms that serve as an armor of protection around the bacteria.
For these reasons, Lyme disease symptoms progress and can eventually affect the heart.
Signs of Lyme Carditis
Lyme carditis can cause light-headedness, fainting, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, irregular heartbeats, and chest pains. These symptoms may follow signs and symptoms of Lyme disease that are general to the body. You may experience flu-like symptoms like fever, chills, sweats, and body aches. You may also have a stiff neck, excessive fatigue, depression, anxiety, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, joint swelling, and stiffness.
Symptoms expand and worsen as they move through the different stages of Lyme disease, including the early localized stage, early disseminated stage, and late disseminated stage.
The Heart’s Electrical System
The heart has an electrical system that determines how fast your heart beats. A danger exists because your heart can function fine even when there is a malfunction in the electrical system.
Your heart is a group of cells through which the electrical system sends signals. This allows the upper or atria, chambers, and lower ventricles, chambers of the heart to contract. The process follows specific steps: An electrical impulse is sent, the upper chambers contract, electrical signals are sent to the ventricles, the lower chambers contract or pump, a signal is sent to the atria, and the process repeats.
Lyme Carditis and a Faulty Electrical System
As a Lyme infection enters tissues surrounding the heart, the electrical system can be damaged and malfunction. Faulty electrical systems can create irregular heart rhythms and, when damaged, can lead to heart attacks and heart failure. CPR is critical to restarting the electrical system to revive someone whose heart has stopped.
Lyme disease can damage the electrical system surrounding the heart in one of three degrees of blockage:
- 1st Degree blockage means electrical signals reach the ventricles or bottom chambers but much slower than normal.
- 2nd Degree blockage happens when only some of the electrical signals reach the ventricles.
- 3rd Degree blockage occurs when none of the electrical signals reach the bottom ventricles.
Other Lyme Related Cardiac Problems
Infectious disease experts and researchers identify many different cardiac reactions to Lyme infection. Carditis is the general term for Lyme infection affecting the heart that includes all possible responses. It can be broken into smaller categories, however.
Dysrhythmias occur when the electrical system is inflamed. They lead to third-degree blockage, abnormal heartbeats, and atrial fibrillation. Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle specifically. This can lead to an enlarged heart with thinned muscle and reduces the ability to pump blood. Myocarditis can be acute or severe and can appear in people of all ages, including children.
Endocarditis is inflammation of the valves or inner lining of the chambers. This condition can lead to a heart murmur or change in an existing one and valve damage, making you more susceptible to additional infections. Damaged valves can also lead to heart failure if left untreated.
Pericarditis is inflammation in the outer sack layers that cover the heart. The layers can fill with inflammatory fluid or prevent them from filling with necessary fluid, either leading to pains in the chest.
Treatment for Lyme Carditis
Antibiotic treatment for three weeks or longer is usually what doctors will prescribe for Lyme carditis. One of the best things you can do for your heart is work with a Lyme literate doctor, a specialist in Lyme disease.
Lyme literate doctors know to ask patients about cardiac symptoms. They follow antibiotics with the most advanced treatments available. And they have the equipment to complete the treatment in their office.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, a temporary pacemaker may be needed to regulate heartbeats. Lyme literate doctors may also provide treatments like therapeutic apheresis, intravenous infusions, anti-parasitic, anti-microbial, and anti-viral protocols are also beneficial in treating Lyme-related heart disorders.
Lyme carditis is very treatable once accurately diagnosed. If you think you may have symptoms of Lyme carditis or Lyme disease, don’t wait to seek help. Days and weeks count when treating any stage of Lyme disease. Reach out to a Lyme literate doctor today to share your symptoms and develop a plan of action.
If you do not have Lyme disease, take the following prevention steps to avoid getting it and risk your heart health.
Prevention of Lyme Disease
If you know you are going outdoors, assess the environment. Hanging out in well-manicured areas with low grass and no brushy, weedy spots makes it less likely to encounter a tick. Ticks prefer high grass, woody areas. However, they can exist in any grass so when you go out, take extra steps to protect yourself:
- Wear clothing that covers your arms, legs, feet, and head. Clothing acts as a barrier between your body and the tick.
- Do tick checks while outside by scanning your clothing. When you return home, do full-body tick checks in the shower or while changing clothes.
- Use tick repellant.
- Don’t forget to check your pets—ticks like anything warm-blooded.
Finally, reach out to a Lyme literate expert for more information on Lyme disease and heart health.