Lyme Disease

Panoramic photography of man in blue jacket with backpack standing on grass in front of trees

When Ticks Take A Bite

As most people have probably heard, famous superstar Justin Bieber has been battling lyme disease, a vector-borne disease commonly spread by the deer tick in the northeast, mid-Atlantic and north-cental United States. But it’s not the tick itself that causes the disease, but rather the bacterium that lives inside the tick, also known as Borrelia Burgdorferi. When the tick takes a bite, the bacteria is inoculated into the bloodstream of the individual.

About 3-30 days after an individual is infected with the bacterium, common symptoms develop such as: fever, fatigue, joint aches, swollen lymph nodes, headaches and a classic “bull’s-eye” skin rash known as erythema migrans. If left untreated, more serious signs and symptoms usually develop a few months later.

These may include: neck stiffness, swollen knees with severe joint pain, facial palsy (drooping of one side of the face), heart palpitations known as “lyme carditis“, nerve pain, tingling in the hands and feet, etc. Diagnosis is done clinically based on signs and symptoms, as well as on blood samples measuring antibodies made by the body in response to infection.

There are even reports that when lyme disease infects the brain, it can cause psychiatric symptoms such as psychosis, rapid mood swings, episodes of rage, depression, panic attacks and even suicidal thoughts. That’s why it’s very important to receive an early diagnosis, so that treatment can be started right away.

The early stages of lyme disease have a good prognosis. Treatment involves oral antibiotics such as amoxicillin or doxycycline. If more advanced cases such as “lyme carditis” or “neuro lyme” develop, intravenous antibiotics such as ceftriaxone or penicillin are used. Most people start to recover within a few weeks of starting the antibiotics.

It is important to note that if fatigue, difficulty thinking and muscle aches continue to last approximately 6 months after treatment was started, the patient may have something called “Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome” or “chronic lyme disease.” There is no proven treatment at the moment for chronic lyme disease; however, patients eventually feel better after many months.

The way to prevent lyme disease is to make sure that you remain covered up when exploring wooded or grassy areas. Also wear repellant, immediately shower after being outdoors and check for any tick bites. It’s not that difficult to miss a tick bite and be walking around with lyme disease for weeks at a time without even knowing it.

Safety always comes first; mentally and physically.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Illness Anxiety Disorder

Anxious brunette man with illness anxiety disorder sitting at table using MacBook

The Fear Of Having A Serious Disease

Illness anxiety disorder (formerly known as hypochondriasis) is the fear of having or developing a serious illness. Patients experience a misinterpretation of bodily symptoms and have heightened bodily sensations. They are also very anxious about the possibility of having an undiagnosed illness.

They’ll devote excess time and energy to health concerns and obsess over them, despite reassurance on multiple occasions by medical professionals that nothing is wrong with them. They’ll even obsessively research an illness which they think they might have, in order to gather more information that can somehow be connected to their bodily sensations.

Patients may or may not have a medical disorder. If they do happen to have one, it may or may not be related to the development of their illness anxiety disorder. They won’t deny their medical condition, but they’ll remain preoccupied with developing another one or having an illness that may be undiagnosed.

Their beliefs are not of delusional intensity, meaning that even if they are medically reassured, they will not go home believing that a cancer is growing in their pancreas. They’ll just end up going home anxiously worrying about the possibility of acquiring pancreatic cancer. There’s a difference between the two: delusions are fixed false beliefs and the latter is an extreme anxiety disorder regarding the acquirement of an illness.

Patients with illness anxiety disorder may experience extreme distress, impairment and life disruption. Imagine going to work and always worrying about having or developing a serious disorder. Imagine the distraction that this anxious thought process would bring upon your work productivity, communication and state of mind.

The duration of these symptoms must last > 6 months in order to be diagnosed with illness anxiety disorder. It commonly begins in early adulthood and has a chronic waxing and waning pattern, meaning that the symptoms may remit and come back at some point in the future. Prevalence in the general population is about 1-5%.

Treatment is centered on behavioral therapy, reassurance and the encouragement to continue living a normal and stress-free life. Medical appointments with a primary care provider (PCP) are recommended on a monthly basis, in order to maintain a therapeutic alliance with the patient and provide them with reassurance.

If you or someone you know is suffering from illness anxiety disorder, please try to understand where they are coming from. Don’t tell them “you’re crazy” or “you don’t have anything” because it’ll only backfire. Compassion and careful listening often go a long way to helping patients better cope with their mental illness!

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

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