What Lyme Disease Does to Your Brain?

What Lyme Disease Does to Your Brain?

Have you ever considered what Lyme disease does to your brain?

Lyme disease may seem like a rare disease but in reality, almost 200,000 people in the United States alone suffer from it. Believe me, when I say, the actual number is a lot higher.

The actual toll of the patients suffering from Lyme disease is because it does not get diagnosed that easily. The symptoms of this disorder are so broad and so different in different people that it takes a lot of time to accurately diagnose it.

Even in diagnostic tests like ELISA, 35 percent of the Lyme disease cases are often missed by the doctors. This situation is quite bothering as a screening test must have 95 percent accuracy in general.

Some of the diseases that may be confused with Lyme disease include:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Panic attacks
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Autism-like syndrome

How Lyme Disease may Affect your Brain

The signs of Lyme disease usually appear a few days after the bite of an infected tick. There are three different stages of symptoms including the localized symptoms, early disseminated, and late disseminated symptoms stage.

What Lyme disease does to your brain becomes apparent in the form of physical symptoms. The early symptoms of Lyme disease are localized and behind within days to weeks of the initial infection. In some people, a rash resembling a bull’s eye often appears on the skin.

The appearance of bull’s eye rash is a classic sign of Lyme disease. However, it only surfaces in about 50% of the individuals.

What Lyme disease does to your brain is, however, a lot more than a bull’s eye rash. Research has shown that sometimes the rash affiliated with Lyme disease is misdiagnosed as cellulitis, spider bite, or shingles.

What Lyme Disease Does to Your Brain?

A few weeks after the infection, the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease disseminates throughout the body. During this time period, what Lyme disease does to you brain and your body causes the following problems:

  • Fever
  • Neck stiffness
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • A headache

A few of these symptoms may persist for weeks, although there may be fluctuations in the intensity of these signs.

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The patients would eventually begin to manifest certain neurological symptoms also known as Lyme neuroborreliosis. If left untreated, the disease progresses to a late stage which includes the development of arthritis, joint pain, and the chronicity of neuroborreliosis.

What Lyme Disease does to your Brain?

The answer to what Lyme disease does to your brain is neuroborreliosis. The quality of life associated with this problem is quite poor. The symptoms of this condition can be divided into three different categories.

What Lyme Disease Does to Your Brain?

Cognitive Manifestations

  • Impairment or complete loss of memory
  • The decrease in the concentration or attention
  • Delayed processing of information
  • Loss of auditory and mental function (Decrease in the capacity to perform daily affairs)
  • Poor reasoning
  • Problems in finding words
  • Decreased verbal fluency
  • Dyslexia
  • Problems associated with reversals and numbers
  • Impairment in the processing of spatial or visual aspects

Neurological Manifestations

  • Headaches
  • Disorders of the cranial nerves: diplopia, facial palsy, drooping of eyelids, loss of hearing, tinnitus, dizziness
  • Polyneuropathies including Paresthesia, pain in the spine, and the general weakness of the body
  • Neuropathic pain of pricking quality and increased sensitivity to pressure and touch
  • Seizure attacks
  • Autonomic dysfunction such as regulating the blood pressure and pulse
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Features similar to other diseases such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and Encephalomyelitis
  • In children, Lyme disease may cause behavior changes and difficulty in learning

What Lyme Disease Does to Your Brain?

Psychiatric Manifestations

  • Problems related to sleeping
  • Delirium
  • Delusions
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic attacks
  • Mood swings
  • Symptoms mimicking autism
  • Progressive dementia
  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder

What Lyme disease does to your brain cannot be predicted in most of the people. Most of the neurological symptoms caused by Lyme disease vary from person to person. The basic pathophysiology of these symptoms is due to cytotoxicity and several neurotoxic mediators released by autoimmune reactions.

Cytotoxicity refers to the ability of body cells to act toxic and cause the death of other cells. Your brain consists of a certain type of cells known as astrocytes which support other cells. These cells are also responsible for supporting the cells that form the blood-brain barrier.

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Lyme disease is said to cause astrogliosis astrocytes. Astrogliosis is a process by which the astrocytes start multiplying rapidly eventually leading to cell death.

The pathophysiology of Lyme disease also involves the release of toxic substances by the microglia and astrocytes. These toxic substances can cause damage to the nerve cells and impair the memory.

At the same time, there is an alteration seen in the concentration of neurotransmitters, particularly tryptophan. This process is mainly responsible for the psychiatric issues associated with Lyme disease.

Continous alterations occurring in the levels of neurotransmitters may also include anxiety, stress, and problems related to sleep. This is followed by an induction of cytokines that lead to an autoimmune-mediated reaction.

Diagnostic Issues in Lyme Disease

It is extremely important to know what Lyme disease does to your brain. At the same time, it is also crucial to know that it is really difficult to trace this disease. One of the problems associated with Lyme disease is the lack of a reliable diagnostic test. Most of the screening or diagnostic tests available for this disease are unreliable and may provide false negative or false positive results.

Western blot method and blood testing are considered for diagnosing Lyme disease but are not sensitive and may provide inaccurate tests. Patients with neurological symptoms undergo MRI and late-stage testing to determine the presence of the causative bacterium.

What Lyme Disease Does to Your Brain?

MRI is often used to detect brain involvement in Lyme disease. However, this cannot be relied upon as the lesion associated with Lyme disease may resemble the lesion seen in multiple sclerosis.

Is there a Treatment for Lyme Disease?

People often ask the question that is there a treatment for Lyme disease. There are certain ways for the people with neurological symptoms to feel good again. In fact, there are certain natural remedies to treat the disease as well.

Because there are different aspects to Lyme disease, an integrative approach is required that is personalized according to each patient. The approach must also be designed according to the stage of the disease and its far-reaching symptoms.

The standard treatment for Lyme disease include antibiotics given orally and sometimes intravenously. Other supplemental treatments for Lyme disease include hormonal therapies, antivirals, and immune modulators. Sometimes, certain nutritional supplements are also prescribed.

A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods like fish, nuts, and leafy green vegetables can also reduce most of the symptoms associated with Lyme disease.

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It is also important to focus on changing a particular lifestyle and address methylation problems as a part of Lyme disease treatment.

How to Prevent Lyme Disease

In addition to Lyme disease treatment, there are a few steps you can follow to avoid the disease altogether. Some of these steps are mentioned below:

  • Before indulging in any outdoor activities, prefer using a bug spray for repelling ticks, the carriers of Lyme disease
  • Use essential oil such as tea tree, rosemary, lavender, lemongrass, peppermint, and sage to repel ticks
  • Always remember to wear full sleeves and full-length pants with socks while hiking or going for an outdoor activity
  • Go for light-colored clothing so that it is easier to locate ticks and get rid of them immediately
  • Immediately change clothes as soon as you return from an outdoor activity and put them in a washer
  • Monitor yourself and check your body closely for a rash following an encounter with ticks

While it is important to consider what Lyme disease does to your brain, it is also crucial to know that this disease is dangerous and may affect the quality of your life. So, be safe and keep your eyes open to detect any signs that may be associated with it.



Nancy holds a Pharmacy degree from University of Michigan and Masters of Science MS in Infectious Disease and Global Health (MS-IDGH) from Tufts University. She worked as a lecturer for three years before she turned towards medical writing. Her area of interest are infectious diseases; causes, mechanism, diagnosis, treatments and prevention strategies. Most of her writings ensure an easy understanding of uncommon diseases.

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