What Causes Lyme Arthritis And How Is It Treated?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by the Borrelia bacteria. The disease is spread through tick bites. When a tick latches on to feed, it spreads the bacteria through the bloodstream, where it can wreak havoc on the entire body. Lyme disease has only been recognised as its own condition since the late 1900s, but fossils dating back millions of years have tested positive for the bacteria. Symptoms of Lyme disease differ depending on the stage of the disease and the progression.
There are two types of Lyme disease: acute and chronic. Acute Lyme disease occurs at the onset of symptoms and, if treated early, doesn’t leave lasting effects. Symptoms of acute Lyme disease are flu-like, and often accompanied by a bullseye rash at the bite site. Chronic Lyme disease occurs when treatment was delayed; it can lead to permanent nerve damage, and the symptoms can linger for years following the infection. The symptoms of chronic Lyme disease include cognitive dysfunction, muscle aches and pains, body-wide inflammation, chronic fatigue and arthritis.
What is Lyme arthritis?
Arthritis caused by Lyme disease occurs when the infection isn’t treated early and progresses to chronic levels. It can lead to pain and swelling in the joints and is similar in style and symptoms to osteoarthritis.
Lyme arthritis can occur in up to 60% of people who have been infected with Lyme disease and didn’t receive treatment early on. The painful inflammation and swelling of the joints can become a lasting and chronic ailment.
What type of arthritis is caused by Lyme disease?
As mentioned above, the type of arthritis that Lyme disease arthritis mimics is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a widespread disease and the most prevalent type of arthritis. It occurs mostly in the hands, knees, hips and spine. In the case of Lyme disease arthritis, it typically only affects one joint, most notably the knee, although it can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.
The type of arthritis that Lyme disease causes damages the protective cartilage in the body. When the cartilage that protects and cushions the bones begins to wear down, it leads to the damage of the joint.
What causes Lyme arthritis?
When the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is left untreated and progresses to other health conditions, it can be hard to cure. The arthritis that occurs in patients with Lyme disease does so when the spirochete makes its way to the joints and infiltrates the tissues that are designed to help keep them healthy.
When it does this, it causes inflammation and eventually breakdown of the protective tissues, leaving the person suffering from arthritis. It can be hard to determine whether the patient is suffering from Lyme disease-induced arthritis, especially if the disease hasn’t been tested for. Since Lyme disease can mimic many other chronic health issues, diagnosing it is the first step to recovery when it comes to Lyme arthritis.
How is Lyme arthritis treated?
In the majority of cases of people suffering from Lyme arthritis, it can be treated with oral antibiotics. This is because the only way to get rid of the bacteria that has targeted the joints is through antibiotics. Doctors will also typically prescribe NSAIDS to the patient suffering to help ease the pain that accompanies Lyme disease arthritis.
In the most severe cases in which Lyme disease is left untreated for a long period of time, the damage done to the joints can be extremely hard to treat. Surgery to remove the tissue that has been damaged by the bacteria may be required to help rid the body of the arthritis caused by Lyme disease.
Does Lyme arthritis go away?
Although Lyme arthritis can be treated, in a fraction of cases, the chronic symptoms may be lasting. The Borrelia bacteria has a unique structure; it multiplies differently than other bacteria. Because of this, the bacteria can lead to a build-up of peptidoglycan in the fluid in the joints.
When this buildup occurs, it can lead to chronic inflammation and may require a new treatment in the form of immune system-dampening mediations. These have been shown to work on the most severe cases because they help rid the body of the peptidoglycan from the joint fluid, thus reducing the inflammation of the joint.
Does Lyme affect the bones in other ways?
In addition to arthritis, the Borrelia bacteria can have a negative effect on the bones. In one study published in the US National Library of Medicine, researchers discovered that the presence of the Borrelia bacteria in the bones could lead to bone loss and a reduction in osteoblasts. Osteoblasts are the cells responsible for the formation of bones, and when the Borrelia bacteria is present, it can inhibit the growth of the bone by blocking and/or killing off osteoblasts.
When this occurs, the overall bone mineral density becomes reduced, and the body’s ability to form new bones or maintain bone mass is detrimentally affected. The study was done on mice, so whether the bacteria has the same effect on humans is still up for debate.