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Life Lessons: Lyme Disease Pt. 1

By Nancy Werteen, Anchor / Reporter, NWerteen@wfmz.com
Published On: Jun 17 2013 04:00:00 AM CDT

Life Lessons Lyme Disease

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pennsylvania has the highest number of reported cases of Lyme disease in the country.

The CDC also reports we are heading into peak Lyme disease season.

Even though doctors have learned a lot about Lyme disease over the last decade, people who have had it say we still have a lot to learn.

The problem is it can be very difficult to diagnose and without the right treatment, Lyme disease can have a long lasting and devastating impact on every part of the body.

Heidi Healy of Bethlehem Twp., Northampton Co., her husband, and three children have all had Lyme disease in the last 10 years.

"It's been, in one word to sum it up, a roller coaster, a journey, an educational journey most of all," says Heidi.

Heidi is now something of an expert on Lyme disease.

She runs the Lehigh Valley Lyme Disease Support Group and says the problem is the symptoms are so varied.

For Heidi, there were headaches, body aches, "and a lot of gastrointestinal problems, brain fog and I just felt totally wiped out," Heidi recalls.

Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of a tiny deer tick. It is usually associated with a bulls eye rash at the sight of the bite, but not always.

Dr. Luther Rhodes, chief of infectious disease at Lehigh Valley Health Network, says the ticks and rashes can be hard to find.

"The fact that the tick attaches and is not seen for two days means it is in a place you don't normally look, the armpit, the backside, behind the knee, under a breast etc.," Dr. Rhodes explains.

He says ticks brush onto the body and begin to crawl up until they find a resting place that can be hidden from our view.

Dr. Rhodes says a rash develops in 80 or 90 percent of cases and can begin as an oval.

It will then typically spread and may develop into the classic bulls eye you might have heard about associated with Lyme.

If you're lucky enough to develop the rash, see it and get yourself quickly to the doctor for the right antibiotics, you could recover in about six weeks.

However, if you don't see the tiny tick or the rash, you may not recognize the disease because the symptoms look like so many other things.

"The issue is the folks who don't see a rash and present with other symptoms weeks or months later with symptoms such as a bells palsy or an irregular heartbeat or arthritis."

Experts say the longer a Lyme disease diagnosis is overlooked, the harder it is to treat and co-infections can complicate things.

Untreated lyme disease can develop into major problems including arthritis, brain infections and disorders of the heart.

According to doctors, the primary and first symptom of Lyme disease could be a red rash that:

Can appear three to 30 days after infection, or not at all
Can last up to several weeks
Can be very small or very large (up to 12 inches across), and may resemble a bull’s-eye
Can mimic such skin problems as hives, eczema, sunburn, poison ivy and flea bites
Can itch or feel hot, or may not be felt at all
Can disappear and return several weeks later

Several days or weeks after a bite from an infected tick, you may experience flu-like symptoms.

However, know that Lyme disease mimics many other flu-like illnesses.

Symptoms such as fatigue, fever and aching joints could be Lyme or many other conditions.

Symptoms of Lyme may include:

*Arthritis symptoms
*Heart problems
*Poor motor coordination
*Heart problems (Heart palpitations and dizziness due to changes in heartbeat) *Neurological problems

*Additional EM lesions in other areas of the body

*Facial or Bell's palsy (loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face)

*Severe headaches and neck stiffness due to meningitis (inflammation of the spinal cord)

*Pain and swelling in the large joints (such as knees)

*Shooting pains that may interfere with sleep

*Eye problems

*Severe fatigue

According to experts, untreated Lyme disease progresses to the spreading stage, where you may have joint pains, multiple rashes, irregular heartbeat or Bells palsy (facial droop).

Late-stage disease (six or more months after infection) can involve arthritis, typically in a large joint like the knee, and nervous-system problems such as numbness or difficulty thinking.

Some people may develop post-Lyme disease syndrome (PLDS), a condition also known as chronic Lyme disease, characterized by persistent musculo-skeletal and peripheral nerve pain, fatigue and memory impairment.

Diagnosis usually is based on symptoms, history of a tick bite, lab tests and a physical exam.

Treatment includes antibiotics.

For more information on Lyme disease, visit www.lymepa.org.

To contact Lehigh Valley Lyme Disease Support Group:  lehighvalleylyme@aol.com)