Can Lyme Disease Become Chronic?

Is Chronic Lyme Disease Real?

There has been an ongoing debate for years about the issue of Chronic Lyme disease. There are patients who continue to have symptoms long after finishing the course of antibiotics to treat the infection.

Sadly, many of those who are living with these symptoms have been dismissed by the medical community or treated as hypochondriacs and are left to try to deal with their illness on their own.

Recently it has come to light that the symptoms they experience are real and are medical in nature but are usually caused by coinfections that have not been treated.

Also, all too common are people who are treated late in the disease because it is missed entirely in the beginning.


The recent rise of integrative strategies for treating Lyme comes on the heels of a decades-long fight over the very nature of the disease. The dispute revolved around two key questions: Are Lyme-disease tests accurate? And, can Lyme disease be chronic — that is, can Lyme spirochetes survive two to four weeks of antibiotic therapy and  then continue to make patients sick?

While the debate continues, the National Institute of Standards and Technology last year hosted a workshop to spur development of better tests to more accurately diagnose the disease. And recent peer-reviewed studies strongly suggest that small quantities of the spirochete can survive a short course of antibiotics when infection is treated late.

Yet for patients and their doctors, a core issue remains: Even if some spirochetes survive the onslaught of antibiotics, will more antibiotics purge remaining infection and return the patients to wellness — or are different treatments needed as well?

Limited studies give mixed grades to longer-term antibiotics. Many patients report a positive response but still agree they needed to go beyond these drugs to get completely well. Richard Horowitz, MD, author of Why Can’t I Get Better? Solving the Mystery of Lyme & Chronic Disease, estimates that 75 percent of his patients respond to antibiotic therapies, but he agrees that antibiotics alone will not cure some patients.

Since the tests are especially unreliable in the earliest stages of the disease, it’s all too easy for patients to slip through the cracks and join the ranks of the late-diagnosed. Of those, an estimated 20 percent fail the short-term treatment and become chronically ill.

The fallout of Lyme and associated co-infections can inflame the immune system, destabilize hormones, cause sleep disorders, and challenge the well-functioning brain. If not balanced with probiotics, antibiotics can disrupt the microbiome of the gut and cause diarrhea and yeast infections.
– via Experience Life

A Heated Debate

The patients are in the middle of a heated debate in the medical community. The Centers for Disease Control is on one side of the issue along with many doctors stating that chronic lyme disease does not exist but instead the patient’s body is causing the symptoms.

On the other side are doctors who specialize in treating Lyme Disease and see the prolonged symptoms more often. They work on courses of treatment trying to bring patients suffering (many times for years) with fatigue, joint pain, sleep and thinking disorders and many other symptoms back to health.

The mainstream medical community doesn’t recognize a diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease, nor does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the country’s chief public health agency. Instead, the CDC says patients whose fatigue, pain and other symptoms last longer than six months have Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, despite having completed the typically curative two- to four-week antibiotic regimen.

The controversy is more than just a name game. Supporters of chronic Lyme disease believe patients’ stubborn symptoms are due to persistent or new infections caused by Borrelia burgdorferi – the bacterium that triggers Lyme. As a result, “Lyme literate doctors” often prescribe long-term antibiotic treatments for patients like Eisenhart at a time when antibiotic overuse is being blamed for spawning drug-resistant superbugs.

“Our general recommendation [is] to avoid long courses of antibiotic therapy,” which can be dangerous, says Dr. Paul Mead, chief of epidemiology and surveillance for the CDC’s Lyme disease program. In fact, four clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health found no evidence that extended antibiotic therapy is beneficial or safe for patients whose health woes persist after being treated for Lyme disease, Mead adds.

Dr. Samuel Shor, chair of the Loudoun County Lyme Commission and associate clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University Health Care Sciences in the District of Columbia, is among the handful of medical professionals who believe the disease itself can be chronic, caused by ongoing or new infection by B. burgdorferi – not a patient’s overactive immune system. Complicating matters, he says, is that the blood test used to diagnose patients with Lyme disease isn’t always accurate, meaning people could be told they are infection-free when that is not the case.

“The paradox is that the immune system is suppressed by the disease, which the blood test is screening for,” Shor explains. “Even if you’ve got bona fide Lyme disease, 1 out of every 2 patients is going to be told they don’t have it.”
– via US News & World Report

If you have the symptoms of Lyme disease have you seen a Lyme specialized doctor?