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Lyme Disease Treatment Considerations and Their Similarities to Cancer and Chemotherapy

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I’ve been asked many times, isn’t Lyme disease cured with just 10 days of antibiotics?  And I often have to tell people that it depends.  Does that ever sound like a cop out?  It’s like answering a question about a relationship between a man and a woman: it’s complicated. 
It all depends on what stage it is in when you begin treatment.  If you’d like to know what stage you’re in, you may want to read my Stages of Lyme Disease article that was posted on January 29, 2016.

So I thought that I’d give you some idea of what those that are dealing with chronic Lyme disease and the other tick-borne infections, like Babesia, Bartonella, etc. struggle with when deciding what treatment to pursue.  Most people with Lyme disease aren’t just infected with Borrelia, but also a few other tick-borne infections that need to be treated as well. 

It wasn’t until the other day when I was having breakfast with some friends that I realized that the treatment process for cancer and chemotherapy is similar to that of Lyme disease.  And, just like cancer, death can result from Lyme disease as well as from the other tick-borne infections. 

As with chemotherapy, with Lyme disease treatment, you have to ask some key questions and address certain concerns which may include the following: (1) Learning more about the schedule and side effects of your specific treatment. (2) Getting after-hours contact numbers for your doctor or nurse and (3) Where and how will you receive treatment: will it be at home or at your doctor’s office?

As with chemotherapy treatments, you have to plan when you will begin your treatments.  For instance, I chose to begin treatment over my Christmas break.  Why? Because I could suffer a major Herxheimer reaction. (1)(2) I also had to prepare for the horrid side effects if I chose to take conventional treatments.  Some of the common side effects of these treatments are similar to those that cancer patients experience with chemotherapy. 

Nausea and vomiting: Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of Lyme treatments. The best way to manage nausea and vomiting is to prevent them. So it is important to talk with your health care physician before you begin treatment.  In most cases, medications can prevent nausea and vomiting. There are also some home remedies and unconventional methods that you can utilize for the nausea and vomiting.  For example, ginger chews or cannabis.    

Hair: You might lose some or all of your hair during treatment or due to the disease that you are fighting.  I lost a lot of my hair when I was at my worst due to a Babesia infection.  I actually had to wear a hat or scarf outside so that I would not get sunburned.  The antibiotics that I was using also caused some hair loss as well as sensitivity to sun exposure.   

Dental health: Some of the conventional medications and antibiotics that are used for Lyme disease and the other tick-borne infections can cause mouth sores and a dry mouth. They can also lower your body’s ability to fight infections. So it is a good idea to have a complete dental checkup and cleaning before you start or speak with your dentist or dental hygienist to see if there is anything that you can do to prevent or cull the damage caused by the antibiotics or medications that you use for treatment.  In my case, the plaque buildup and dryness began causing gingivitis.  I also had many more canker sores that, to my surprise, the dental hygienist was also able to help heal. 

Heart health: Some medications used for Lyme treatment can affect the heart. It depends on the intensity of the Herxheimer reaction. As with me, since my biggest problem is Babesia, I often have major chest pains and heart palpitations that can be quite severe and which can cause angina.  As with chemotherapy, it may be beneficial to have your heart condition evaluated before treatment. That way, doctors will be able to tell you if the treatment will cause problems later.

Reproductive health: Some types of meds that are used in Lyme treatment can affect your fertility. In addition, Lyme disease can affect women’s ability to get pregnant and carry a pregnancy. Problems with milk lactation are common; and miscarriages, premature birth, birth defects, and stillbirths are also possible. Also, many women with Lyme choose to not become pregnant out of fear that they’d pass the disease onto their children.  Studies have found that stillbirths have occurred when the disease was contracted during the first trimester of gestational Lyme Borreliosis.  Another report has attributed an infant’s death to a vertical transmission of Bb from the mother, after the autopsy showed evidence of spirochetes in the spleen, kidneys, and bone marrow. [1-3]

Getting help with finances: Before chemotherapy starts, some cancer patients will contact charity organizations for financial assistance, because their insurance may not cover the whole cost of treatment. However, Lyme disease treatments and tests are also not often covered by insurance, so I recommend that people with Lyme do the same and seek out an organization that might be able to help cover the cost of treatment.

Time off Work for Treatment:
When undergoing chemotherapy, cancer patients will often talk with their employer to arrange time off work for treatment and recovery.  Unfortunately, many of us with Lyme have not had the same understanding or support from our employers to even be able to think about doing this during treatment and recovery.  Many of us have tried numerous treatments and have been able to recover enough to hold a steady job and regain our lives.

As with cancer, these are all things that people with Lyme disease need to consider before beginning treatment.  Then, it is time for treatment.  As with chemotherapy, you can receive treatment through an IV via PICC line, or orally.  Then, you have to decide which treatment to go with, whether it is conventional antibiotics or an alternative method of treatment.  As a Lyme disease survivor and warrior, receiving treatment has its own challenges and considerations. Work with your doctor and use your resources to find the right treatment.  Weigh the risks and benefits and do what is best for you.
1.     Jarisch–Herxheimer reaction. : An increase in the symptoms of a spirochetal disease (as syphilis, Lyme disease, or relapsing fever) occurring in some persons when treatment with spirocheticidal drugs is started—called also Herxheimer reaction. ~ www.merriam-webster.com
2.     Jemsek, J. A Detailed Overview of Lyme Disease, 2014.
3.     Markowitz LE, Steere AC, Benach JL, Slade JD, Broome CV. Lyme disease during pregnancy. Jama, 255(24), 3394-3396 (1986).
4.      Schlesinger PA, Duray PH, Burke BA, Steere AC, Stillman MT. Maternal-fetal transmission of the Lyme disease spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi. Ann Intern Med, 103(1), 67-68 (1985).
5.      MacDonald AB, Benach JL, Burgdorfer W. Stillbirth following maternal Lyme disease. N Y State J Med, 87(11), 615-616 (1987).

 Lydia Niederwerfer is a Lyme disease survivor, a freelance blogger, founder of Lyme-Aware.org, and is passionate about spreading awareness of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.  She is a devoted wife, loving sister, and inspires many of her friends and fellow Lyme Warriors. She also shares the trials and triumphs she has experienced in her journey with Lyme disease on her blog at Lyme-Aware.org.Lydia has a B.A. in Business Administration, majoring in finance and works within her area school district.

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4 thoughts on “Lyme Disease Treatment Considerations and Their Similarities to Cancer and Chemotherapy”

  1. Bertollt says:

    Never knew the trials and tribulations people with Lyme disease have to go through. Great article

  2. PC1980 says:

    This is a very informative article to those in need what to expect during treatment, where to get help, even informs friends and family of what the warriors are going through during these difficult times. It really opened my eyes as to the difficulties they go through. I look forward to reading more of Lydia’s writings. Thank you so much for publishing her work.

  3. gloria.torti says:

    Excellent article: It makes me realize of how little I know about lyme disease or how ticks can affect us. This article informs me of how many suffer with this disease and how little we know about it. It’s good to know about the types of medications or remedies that can be tried or used. I feel this disease needs to be in the media more public awareness so the country can become familiar with the effects of what can happen if not treated in timely manner. This disease needs to be talked about as those things like the mosquito awareness or the “zika” types of diseases.
    This will let me send information out to my friends and people within my community so they can be aware of what other things are out there that can effect us. (3-12-16) GAT, TX

  4. bettyg says:

    linda, thanks for telling it like it is with what we go thru and how it is like chemo EXCEPT we don’t get family support, understanding, or empathy.

    family/friends/co-workers DESERT us saying, “IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD” BS.

    to give the readers here a bigger understanding yet, i’m going to post the names of MOST co-infections.

    22+ OTHER diseases that ticks carry; examples:

    bartonella, babsiosa, erlichia, rocky mtn. spotted fever, mycloplasma, anaplasma, lonestari, bourbon virus, heartland virus, relapsing fever, borrelia myacoti, borrelia MAYONII,

    other strains of borrelia, tularemia, ENCEPHALITIS, neoehrlichiosis, morgellons, RICKETTSIA PARKERI, q fever, tacaribe virus, so-called arenavirus, XMRV, powassan virus, and others i can’t remember the names of.

    yes, cancer appts. and treatments ARE covered by health insurance companies.

    lyme/other diseases named above are considered “EXPERIMENTAL THERAPY” by health insurance companies since they go by CDC/IDSA/infectious disease drs. guidelines.

    so we pay 100% out of pocket to see our lyme literate mds, treatments, and travel out of state since many don’t have LLMDS in their state treating longer than 30 days.

    bettyg, iowa lyme activist
    47 yrs. chronic lyme
    35 yrs. MISDIAGNOSED by 40-50 drs.

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