Lyme disease can cause many disparate symptoms over the course of its progression. It’s often called ‘The Great Imitator’ because many of its generalised symptoms resemble the symptoms of other, more prominent chronic conditions. This makes it very difficult to diagnose, and misdiagnosis rates are suspected to be extremely high. Compounding this is the fact that chronic Lyme is not widely recognised as a legitimate disorder. Despite many thousands of people suffering from long-term Lyme symptoms, hugely different from the accepted acute symptoms, the condition remains an outlier. Therefore, patient and doctor education on Lyme disease in all its forms is not as good as it should be. Many symptoms fall by the wayside because of this, and either go uninvestigated or misdiagnosed. Bladder issues might not be the first thing you associate with Lyme disease; but can Lyme disease cause bladder problems?
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease was christened in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975. This is relatively recent for a major disease, which speaks of its insidious nature. Lyme is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is spread to humans via the deer (or black-legged) tick in America, and the castor bean tick in Europe. Ticks are conduits of disease-causing bacteria, and often carry many different strains simultaneously. However, not every tick carries Borrelia burgdorferi and not every tick bite from those that do will result in Lyme.
Although the disease is often associated with America, particularly the north-eastern states, it is a global issue. Lyme rates remain alarmingly high in Europe as well as the U.S., with global warming compounding the issue. As the global temperature increases, ticks are able to live longer and migrate further, thereby increasing the instances of Lyme all over the world.
Acute vs. Chronic Lyme
The initial symptoms of Lyme present much like the flu. They manifest a day or two after the tick bite, and often involve a headache, fatigue, aches and fever – standard flu symptoms. The calling card of Lyme is a distinctive bullseye-shaped rash, which is present at the site of the bite in the majority of cases. If this is present, Lyme can be conclusively diagnosed. However, it is often overlooked, as many times people don’t realise they’ve been bitten. If treated with antibiotics, acute Lyme can be resolved rapidly and successfully for many patients. However, if that window is missed, Lyme will progress to its chronic long-term form, bringing with it a whole host of new, problematic symptoms.
Chronic Lyme represents an interplay between infection symptoms and inflammation symptoms. The former is caused by the underlying Borrelia infection, while the latter is caused by the body’s exaggerated response to the persistent bacteria. Because of this, a wide spectrum of symptoms is possible, varying in severity depending on the patient. The highly resistant Borrelia bacteria can travel and infect various parts of the body, including the neurological system and the pulmonary system.
Can Lyme disease lead to bladder problems?
Can Lyme disease affect your bladder? Some experts say it might. Bladder conditions might seem inferior to more severe issues relating to the brain and heart. But anyone who’s suffered from bladder pain can testify that it’s not a symptom to be taken lightly. The uniform name for frequent urination, bladder pain and inflammation is interstitial cystitis (IC), although a diagnosis of this disorder often means that the root cause is unknown. So does Lyme disease cause interstitial cystitis?
Lyme specialists are claiming there is a frequent crossover between Lyme symptoms and bladder issues, although not many studies have been conducted on this apparent link. There is seemingly also a connection between stomach issues, a common complaint of Lyme patients, and bladder problems. An animal study, conducted in 2006, found that in rodents, Borrelia burgdorferi is most often found in the bladder. While this and the anecdotal evidence are intriguing, it remains an unexplored area in the field of Lyme disease.
Another, more recent study has provided a more concrete link in humans. This one found that voiding dysfunction (a catchall term used to describe poor coordination between the bladder muscle and the urethra) can appear as an early or late stage symptom of Lyme. Micturition (urination) disorders can subsequently occur via two paths. The first involves the Borrelia bacteria directly invading the bladder. The second occurs as a by-product of neuroborreliosis, a symptom of Lyme caused by the Borrelia bacteria breaching the blood-brain barrier and inflaming the brain. This is a serious manifestation of chronic Lyme disease, which has repercussions for many different areas of the body. Seven out of seven patients who suffered from Lyme encephalomyelitis (inflammation of the brain) reported reflex response problems with their bladders.
While it seems conclusive to say that there is some link between chronic Lyme disease and bladder problems, most doctors won’t have the necessary Lyme education to correctly diagnose it as such. Lyme specialists (like BCA-clinic in Germany) are few and far between; and until more medical professionals are aware of the insidious dangers of chronic Lyme in all its potential forms, patients will continue to suffer sustained misdiagnoses.