Lyme disease is an extremely complex disorder that we’re still trying to get our collective heads around. There are no easy answers when it comes to Lyme, despite us knowing exactly where it comes from. Over the years Lyme disease has been linked with all sorts of symptoms and illnesses, so much so that it’s hard to tell where one ends and another begins. Cases of Lyme are routinely misdiagnosed by Lyme-illiterate doctors, as the predominant chronic symptoms mimic the presentation of other, more conspicuous chronic conditions. This has earned Lyme the nickname ‘the Great Imitator’, which demonstrates how easily it can be missed. Over the years, Lyme has been linked with many other issues, all stemming from the initial infection. But is haemolytic anaemia one of them? And if so, can Lyme disease cause haemolytic anaemia in patients?
If you look at it from an ‘official’ perspective, Lyme disease is deceptively straightforward. It was discovered in 1975 in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut. The condition had actually existed and plagued the surrounding areas for many years previous, but this was the first time a collective name was put on it. 1975 is relatively recent for a vector-borne disease, which may be part of the reason why we have so much trouble with it almost 45 years later. It was discovered that ticks were the source of the problem, specifically deer ticks, alternatively called black-legged ticks in Europe. They carried (and continue to carry) the Borrelia strain of bacteria, which causes Lyme in humans and animals. At first, the issue of Lyme was thought to be contained to the northeast geography of the U.S., a myth that still persists to this day. In actuality, Lyme disease cases are on the increase, with cases being reported in every mainland state in America.
Europe is no different, as many countries provide perfect habitat for ticks, who thrive in forestry, grassland and woodland areas. Many countries in Europe have reported numerous cases of Lyme disease, which, in 2019, is on the cusp of becoming a worldwide epidemic. Despite this obvious prevalence, the chronic form of Lyme is still treated with scepticism by the mainstream medical community – some tepid, some outright hostile. Acute Lyme is the term for the initial stage of the disease, which causes flu-like symptoms in patients. These occur soon after the initial tick bite and can last for a number of days to weeks. Symptoms aren’t necessarily severe; in some cases, they can actually be quite mild. This makes the acute stage of Lyme easily missed, especially if the tick bite goes unnoticed in the first instance.
Chronic Lyme refers to the later stages of the disease, where inflammation symptoms have become untenable, and act in tandem with the infection. In this case, joint pain, muscle aches and fatigue are the primary issues, with numerous other conditions potentially joining the assault. Chronic Lyme is not a fully legitimised condition, which makes it extremely hard for specialists to research the specifics of this stage of the disease. The end result is that we don’t know all we should know about the effects of long-term Lyme. This uncertainty is compounded by the fact that symptoms vary wildly from patient to patient. But what can we say about Lyme disease and haemolytic anaemia?
First, let’s look at haemolytic anaemia on its own. It is a blood disorder that occurs when your red blood cells are destroyed faster than you can create them. Though it sounds extremely severe, it is not always a critical condition; the consequences range from relatively harmless to life-threatening. Symptoms of haemolytic anaemia are consistent with symptoms of other forms of anaemia, namely fatigue, shortness of breath, jaundice, gallstones and hypertension. There are numerous causes of the disorder, but can Lyme disease cause haemolytic anaemia?
By itself, the answer is no. However, Lyme disease is not all a patient has to worry about. Ticks carry numerous strains of various bacteria and can easily transfer any of these to their host. The transmission of other infections can occur simultaneously with Lyme disease; these are known as co-infections. There are numerous co-infections out there, but babesiosis is one of the more prominent ones. Babesiosis parasites infect and eradicate red blood cells – which, more often than not, leads patients to develop haemolytic anaemia. Combined with Lyme disease, which weakens the immune system and causes general fatigue, the effects can be critical, even life-threatening.
BCA-clinic, a Lyme specialist clinic based in Augsburg, Germany, is all too aware of the dangers of co-infections, striving to combat them at the same time as Lyme. These co-infections are routinely missed by most doctors, even when Lyme disease is correctly diagnosed; testing for all of them at once is very hard to pull off, and requires specialist methods. Haemolytic anaemia is just one of the concerning side-effect symptoms that Lyme doctors have to consider, among a spectrum of many. All symptoms of Lyme and its co-infections have the tendency to play off each other, and make the general condition of the patient worse. Treating them all in tandem is vitally important, especially when it comes to serious conditions like haemolytic anaemia.