Lyme Disease and Hyperbaric Therapy
While there are only an estimated 150,000 people afflicted with Lyme Disease in the United States, the incidence rate continues to soar at an alarming rate each year. The CDC speculates that because the condition mimics so many other illnesses, the actual number of people with Lyme disease may be 5 to 10 times higher than the estimated 150,000 of reported cases coping with the disease.
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to humans by infected deer ticks. While short-term sufferers of Lyme report symptoms including bull’s-eye rash, fever, flu-like symptoms, migraines, fatigue, and muscle and joint aches, a large number of cases are misdiagnosed and quickly develop into a more serious condition known as late disseminated Lyme.
Late disseminated Lyme comprises many debilitating symptoms and has been considered difficult to treat in the medical community. Symptoms include fever, flu-like symptoms, migraines, fatigue, muscle and joint aches seen in early-stage Lyme, but are also accompanied by immune system dysfunction, nervous system abnormalities, chronic axonal polyneuropathy, or encephalopathy, cognitive disorders, sleep disturbance, personality changes, and cardiac problems. While the condition is not considered fatal, symptomology is so severe that many patients are bed-bound.
Due to the vast range of symptomology present in Lyme, oftentimes patients are misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, depression, or even arthritis. In addition, there is not one diagnostic test for the condition, further complicating a diagnosis and proper treatment.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) has been used more and more frequently in the past decade to treat Lyme disease. A groundbreaking study published by Dr. William Fife of Texas A&M University, demonstrated dramatic improvements in overall condition of Lyme patients treated with hyperbaric. Hyperbaric has been shown to reduce pain significantly, modulate the immune system, increase energy, alleviate sleep dysfunction, and reduce cognitive impairment. In most cases, patients are also able to discontinue use of antibiotics or other pharmaceuticals.
Hyperbaric oxygen treatments infuse the body with oxygen, increasing O2 levels by up to 1000% in body tissues through increased pressure. Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme are considered microaerophilic, needing small amounts of oxygen to survive, but dies in the presence of abundant oxygen. Hyperbaric also acts as an immune modulator and allows organ and gland functionality to normalize, reducing many debilitating Lyme symptoms. Because the chambers pressurize the atmosphere, hyperbaric acts as a detoxifier as well. By forcing oxygen into the tissues through this pressure, toxins, chemicals and other impurities are forced out.
As with antibiotic treatment, patients may experience a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction, after initial hyperbaric oxygen treatment. Also known as “Herxing”, the reaction occurs when the Borrelia burgdorferi are destroyed, resulting in a temporary “die-off” effect causing fever, chills and weakness to occur for a short period of time. Many times a Herxheimer reaction indicates that a Lyme therapy is effective.
How Can Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Help Your Lyme Disease?
In addition to antibiotics, physicians will often include hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a treatment to help patients fight off Lyme disease. This is because the bacterium that causes Lyme disease is known as “anaerobic,” which simply means that it cannot exist in oxygen. One of the primary benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is that the process safely increases oxygen levels within your body, which can ultimately cause a reduction of harmful bacteria.
Patients undergoing Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for help with their Lyme disease may experience something called the Herxheimer response, which includes symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, flushing, and more. This is caused by endotoxins that are released as the harmful bacteria dies. Fortunately, this reaction typically lasts only a few hours to days, and additional pharmaceuticals can be prescribed to help ease any symptoms.
HBOT and Lyme Disease
Lyme disease, first discovered in 1975, is an infectious illness transmitted by ticks. In the past decade, Lyme disease has spread across the nation and has increased in incidence some tenfold. Lyme infection may produce muscle and joint pain, immune system dysfunction, nervous system abnormalities, cardiac problems, and fever.
Typically, if aggressive antibiotic therapy is initiated early in the course of the illness, successful treatment is achieved. Unfortunately, many patients do not adequately respond to antibiotic therapy and essentially become incapacitated by this illness.
New and exciting research showing the efficacy of hyperbaric oxygen therapy now offers hope to patients crippled by chronic Lyme disease. Dr. William Fife at Texas A & M University has published extensive research demonstrating profound improvements in chronic Lyme disease patients treated with HBO. These improvements include pain reduction, return of clarity of mentation, reduction of depression, and frequently the ability to discontinue antibiotics.
“Towards the end of August of 2005 I broke out in a strange rash all over my abdomen while working at the Iowa State Fair. I thought nothing of it at the time and started my fall semester at the University of Iowa. Shortly after the semester had started I began to struggle academically. I was having trouble completing my assignments on time and I was always tired. As time went on that semester I began to have real issues with focus. It didn’t matter where I was studying, I could not concentrate to save my life. Everything was taking me longer and longer to complete. I managed to pull through that semester with good grades but it took all that I had to give. So I rested up and began my spring semester of 2006.
During that winter break I did nothing other than try to finish my Calc II independent study course. I felt fatigued all the time and I began to notice my memory was slipping. I had gone to see some local docs and they just told me I needed to rest, that school was just going to keep getting harder from here on out. I didn’t think this made a lot of sense because during the spring semester of 2005 I had been in the top of all my classes. Now, I was struggling to keep up passing grades.
The spring semester of 2006 was the beginning of the end of my academic career. My memory grew worse and worse to the point I had finally given up on classes that required pure memorization and began to focus just on my chemistry classes. I had straight A’s in all my classes at the time until the last four weeks of the semester where I had to drop out due to sheer exhaustion. I was not able to study for my finals and ended up doing very poorly on all my finals and earned lower grades in all my classes.
I would be writing volumes if I discussed all the events that took place with me emotionally, physically and mentally. I am going to focus on what happened after I received my diagnosis of Lyme Disease (Lyme disease is caused from a bacteria name Borrellia bergdorferi or Bb that has a spirochete shape because they look like little cork screws) during the late fall of 2007. I had the disease for over two years and was in sad shape when I was finally diagnosed. During the time prior to my diagnosis my son and I had to move back in with my parents so they could help take care of him while I tried to identify what was going on with my health.
The Doctor that diagnosed the disease started my treatment by placing me on a very aggressive antibiotic regimen. Slowly but surely I began to feel better. My memory started coming back along with my physical stamina but cognitive abilities were still suffering. I could not sit down and read or even do basic calculations such as balancing my check book without having to take a three hour nap as a consequence. Dr. Drisko of KuMed (the doc who diagnosed me) felt that hyperbaric oxygen therapy would be of tremendous benefit to me in ridding my body of the Lyme spirochetes in addition to aid in the healing process from all the damage that the disease had caused.
I contacted David Deister, owner of Hyperbaric Healing Institute about scheduling treatments. David conveyed to me that HBOT was not the answer by itself but an effective adjunct to antibiotic therapy. I went twice a day for five weeks. I began my first five week period of HBOT during the middle of May of 2008. The first and third weeks of the first series of treatments were the absolute worse. I experienced very intense Jarish-Herxheimer reactions (worsening of symptoms caused from the bacteria dying off, releasing toxins into your system. Your immune system goes into overdrive to deal with the increased level of toxins) that left me feeling like I had been beaten up.
By the end of the first series I felt much better. I was thinking clearly again and I even competed in a seven mile race back in my home state of Iowa (“The Bix” was the race if anyone was wondering) where I finished with a time of 51 minutes. I continued on to do a second series of treatments for five weeks during that summer of 2008.
In total I did 98 sessions during that time period. Those sessions were worth all the time and money that my family and I placed into them. Many people struggle to deal with the effects of Lyme disease especially after someone has dealt with it untreated for so long. I am lucky to say that my life is getting back on track. I am going to school in the fall. I can study, concentrate for long periods of time, no longer distracted easily, and most importantly I have been able to resume my role as an attentive father. I owe a great deal of my recovery to Hyperbaric Healing Institute. Without this therapy I could not have come as far as I have in such a short period of time.”