Lyme Neurological Symptoms Are Common
Being from Minnesota (Which is the #5 state in the country for Lyme and Anaplasma), one of the most common conditions we see our patients plagued with is a tick born illness. Lyme disease is a huge source of unexplained fatigue, pain, and Lyme neurological symptoms. The nerve based symptoms are often the scariest for patients to handle as it seems like at times they are losing control of their body and their senses.
Common Lyme Neurological Symptoms Include:
- Brain fog
- Fascial Nerve Palsy
Lyme aggressively involves the nervous system, but it is not the only bug that likes the nervous system. Indeed, many viruses like to cause nerve damage as well (think Shingles and EBV). As I got deeper into my clinical practice, I had to seek more education about the nervous system, how it got damaged, and what it needed to heal.
Lyme Facial Nerve Palsy
A small group of Lyme Disease patients have made a terrific example for research. Lyme can cause inflammation, which can cause neurological dysfunction, but it can also go directly into a nerve and cause problems. The exact symptoms depend on which nerve the Lyme attacks. If it attacks your vestibular nerve, you will likely have vertigo. If it attacks peripheral nerves, you will likely pain (sharp, stabbing, shooting), burning, numbness and or tingling. This is referred to as peripheral neuropathy.
The most famous neurological symptom from Lyme happens on the rare occassion that the bug attacks the facial nerve. This causes a Facial nerve palsy or “Bell’s Palsy”. This is one of the few neurological symptoms from Lyme that is objective and visible! Many of the other Lyme neurological symptoms are not visible. A patient has to describe the sensation subjectively. With facial nerve palsy, we see can see that one side of the face doesn’t work. The facial nerve innervates the muscles of facial expression. These are the muscle that allow you to raise your eyebrows, smile, close your eyes, purse your lips and drink out of a straw. When these muscles don’t work (due to the facial nerve palsy from Lyme), most patients think they are having a stroke because half of your face begins to droop. After going to the hospital (sometimes more than once) to rule out a stroke, it stops being so scary. So here is what we learn from these patients. We really believe that nearly ALL Lyme disease patients have nerve damage like Facial Nerve Palsy patients, but it’s just not always in a nerve that is easily visible.
5 Essential Factors to Improve Lyme Neurological Symptoms
- Low inflammation: Lyme disease causes inflammation and nerves are extremely sensitive to inflammation. However, the traditional inflammatory markers CRP and ESR are usually negative with Lyme. If we run other inflammatory markers such as ECP, MMP, TGFB1, and MSH, the inflammation can be clearly seen. For more, see our article on Lyme Disease inflammation. For more information read our article on the inflammation in Lyme Disease by clicking HERE.
- No Neuro Toxins: Not only can Lyme directly hurt a nerve and create inflammation while damaging nerves, it also produces toxic byproducts for nerves. Even after the Lyme bug is gone, these toxins can persist. This is why the famous Lyme doctor Richard Horowitz says “Detox, Detox, Detox!”
- Oxygen: Nerves need oxygen in order to function properly. Indeed, one of the issues with Lyme and co-infections, like Babesia and Bartonella, is they either affect air flow in the lungs or they alter hemodynamics so the blood does not flow properly to cells that need oxygen.
- Nutrients & Hormones: For nerves to improve you want things like BDNF (a brain growth hormone), B vitamins, fish oils, and choline. These and other nutrients are either raw materials or co-factors for nerves to work correctly. These nutrients and hormones can be altered by the infections or the inflammation , but fixing them can set up the nervous system to function better.
- Activation: To rebuild nerves you must activate them. If you don’t use them, you lose them. An essential and often forgot about part in recovery is activating the nerves to build them up again! While general exercise is good, specific neuro rehab is so much better!
Neuro Rehab: The Secret Sauce
If you break your arm, how do you get it strong again? Would protein drinks and good hormones help? Sure, but only if you exercised the arm. If you never exercise the arm, all the nutrition in the world won’t make it strong and functional again. Once the inflammation is gone and the nutrition is there, you MUST exercise the arm to get it better. This is no different for nerves and pathways injured in the brain. You can remove the inflammation and have a healthy environment for the nerves/brain, but you still need to stimulate those areas within the nervous system to attempt to regain optimal function.
This is where functional neurology comes in. We can identify the areas that are weak or vulnerable and come up with a specific plan to help stimulate those regions and improve function. This is an essential but often overlooked part of recovery for most patients. For more information visit our articles on two of the most important and common areas in need of rehab for Lyme patients: the Vagus Nerve and the Vestibular System.