The diagnosis and care of a patient with Lyme Disease is multifaceted and can be approached from more than one angle. It likely goes without saying that mainstream medicine is taking a much different approach than those in the functional and integrative space.
In this video, I discuss the importance of looking at the larger history of said patient and how lab testing plays a role in proper diagnosis of Lyme Disease.
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Good afternoon everybody. I just finished an interview with the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and they wanted to talk about Lyme disease in Canada. We had a good, 20-minute chat that will probably be aired on some CBC broadcast in the fall.
I was struck by one of the issues that often arises in my practice when I’m asked to treat complex multi-system, multi-symptom patients. They often come in and say, “I’ve got Lyme disease can you help me?” or “I’ve seen five doctors, naturopaths, et cetera, but I’m not better”.
One of the biggest frustrations has been people believing that there’s one single trigger for their presentation of symptoms. They have one or two positive antibodies on their lab test, are told that’s a positive Lyme marker, and then are told by their medical provider that they should be on a full treatment program. I think that it’s medical malpractice to jump into the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease without a considered approach.
We do know that there are two schools of thought in the standard of Lyme diagnosis. There are the traditional infectious disease specialists, who have very strict criteria for the diagnosis of Lyme disease, rightfully or wrongfully. Then there is a more broad approach to the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of Lyme disease, which is purported and put forth by a group called ILADS, to which I happen to belong.
The two schools of thought do not see eye to eye and that continual friction places the patient in the middle, trying to work out what is the best approach.
Often patients get a diagnosis of Lyme disease from a provider they’ve seen based on the US test. They then get sent by their family doctor to an infectious disease specialist who reads them the riot act and lets them know that the tests are recording too many false positives, that they are irrelevant, that the lab is just trying to make money, or that the labs aren’t standardized. This battle goes back and forth, causes frustration for everyone, and the poor patient sits in the middle, trying to make sense of it all.
Our aim is to talk about the differences between the two approaches, address the specifics as to why one group is vehemently certain of their position and the other group contests that position and has their own set of criteria for diagnosing and treating, which, based on the data, can’t be invalidated and has to be taken into account.
So here’s my take on patients who believe Lyme may be a trigger without a thorough health history. Lyme disease and co-infections are based on a very thorough clinical history.
I’m not going to go into the specifics of that clinical history, but the doctor or healthcare professional interviewing you must spend a lot of time taking a very specific history as to what symptoms you’re presenting and how you came to this diagnosis.
Just walking in with a positive lab test, whether it be US based or even Canadian based, isn’t good enough. Although with the Canadian test, if it’s positive, there’s a strong likelihood that Lyme disease is playing a role.
The Canadian test has very strict criteria for false positives and negatives, so if you have a positive test in the Canadian lab, it’s very likely that Lyme is an issue. So, I suggest that your practitioner takes a very thorough history and starts to use certain criteria to make the diagnosis.
One, is there history of a visit to an endemic area? Secondly, is there a history of tick bites? Third, is there history of rashes? The problem is that many times, in fact most times, that history isn’t obtained. But if the history is there, that guides you in a certain direction. Those questions must be asked. Then a full list of symptoms must be taken, to try and differentiate whether your symptoms are specific to Lyme and related co-infections or whether they cross over with other conflicting or added potential causes for illness.
For instance, we know that in Lyme disease patients, after the first thirty days, the disease is characterized particularly in the later stages by migratory polyarthritis, which is joint pain or muscle pain that goes from joint to joint or muscle to muscle. These sorts of symptoms are very diagnostic. There are other things that cause this, but in the context of exposure to tick-borne illness, if those symptoms exist, you want to dig deeper.
So migratory polyarthritis or muscle pain, those are very big symptoms for Lyme disease. Now for the co-infections, you want to ask very specific things. Do you have night sweats? Do you have day sweats? These occurrences are very specific for Babesia symptomatology. Do you have shortness of breath or “air hunger”? Do your symptoms come and go? Are there a lot of emotionally based symptoms, particularly anxiety as this has been associated with Babesia. You want to ask these very specific things.
Bartonella tends to be more peripheral so you tend to get a lot of pain syndromes such as Neuritis, which is pain in the peripheral nerves. Painful soles of the feet, particularly when you get out of bed in the morning. This is why the history is so important.
Lyme disease is now considered to be a clinical diagnosis based on history and physical examination, not based on a positive lab test. Why? Because you do get false positives and depending on which tests you run, the interpretation of results is highly complex. Unfortunately, due to cost we have the Canadian tests, which are elementary and introductory at best.
Infectious disease specialists will say that they’re good enough, however, I disagree. When you want to look further and beyond you do have to look at more advanced testing which is, unfortunately, cost prohibitive. Most people can’t afford what’s really needed. I do try and get as many tests as I can across the spectrum of different testing types, including B-cell antibody testing, T-cell testing, PCR testing, plasma testing, and FISH testing. The more tests you can get, and the more that you correlate those tests with the clinical diagnosis in the symptom profile picture, the more you can hone in on the diagnosis of potential Lyme disease.
In Canada, Lyme disease is rising at a very alarming rate due to the migration of ticks and songbirds to the North. There was a study done showing that there are 32 million South American ticks brought north by South American birds every year. That’s a pretty alarming statistic. We know that songbirds are migrating to the North due to global warming and spreading their tick-borne load further and further North, hence the rise in tick-borne illness in Canada.
So, be cautious. Don’t jump to a diagnosis of Lyme disease because you have a positive test. Make sure that you have a very thorough history taken and make sure that the person who’s interviewing you has experience in the diagnosis and in interpreting lab data. The more lab data you have, the better.
Don’t rush ahead and treat yourself for Lyme disease without due caution. It can lead you into the wrong direction and make your immune system and your gut microbiome quite compromised if you treat inappropriately with some of the drugs out there that are available. Just a word of caution. This was covered in a podcast that you can listen to here.
Dr. Bruce Hoffman, MSc, MBChB, FAARM, IFMCP is a Calgary-based Integrative and Functional medicine practitioner. He is the medical director at the Hoffman Centre for Integrative Medicine and The Brain Centre of Alberta specializing in complex medical conditions. He was born in South Africa and obtained his medical degree from the University of Cape Town. He is a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner (IFM), is board certified with a fellowship in anti-aging (hormones) and regenerative medicine (A4M), a certified Shoemaker Mold Treatment Protocol Practitioner (CIRS) and ILADS trained in the treatment of Lyme disease and co-infections. He is the co-author of a recent paper published by Dr. Afrin’s group: Diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome: a global “consensus-2”. Read more about Dr. Bruce Hoffman.