Where’s the Anxiety Coming From? A Surprising Answer.

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Photo: LifeLoveLyme

This morning when I woke up, I realized that I actually felt refreshed.

I had not endured a night of constant shifting trying to relieve body pain. Or of bolting up eyes wide open at one a.m. and then finding myself stuck awake with raging insomnia for four or five hours. And the thing that struck me most this morning was, I felt at peace.

Lyme disease can affect every part of your body, but many people don’t realize how hard it can hit the brain. For me, one of the biggest symptoms has been crushing anxiety.

I wasn’t particularly surprised; when you’re in constant pain, can’t work, can’t dress or cook or do your own grocery shopping, you lose your sense of self and the worrying escalates. Will I ever feel ok again? Will I ever do the things I used to do, will I be able to work? How am I going to survive financially?

My worrying became debilitating, full-blown anxiety. A therapist helped me deal with it, and medication took the edge off on many tough days.

Here’s a surprise: I had no idea that that the anxiety I struggled with isn’t just triggered by the stress of this chronic illness, but by actual physiological changes in the brain kicked off by Lyme and co-infections.

And Lyme isn’t the only culprit. When I told my doctor that I haven’t needed my anxiety medication in weeks, he replied, “That’s good, it shows we are getting rid of the babesia.”  As medication has killed off this co-infection, anxiety is receding with the other symptoms.

Here’s an excerpt from an excellent article called  “Off-the-Charts Anxiety: Is a Tick Bite Making You Nuts?” from Rodale.com:

After treating thousands of patients with tick-borne disease in the past 20 years, it appears psychiatric symptoms are more commonly seen when there is a co-infection,” explains psychiatrist Robert Bransfield, MD, former president of the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) and president of the New Jersey Psychiatric Association. Co-infections (when a tick passes along more than one disease) most often involve Lyme, babesiosis, a malaria-like infection that can cause fever, night sweats, and anemia; and bartonella (cat scratch fever), a bacterial infection that causes fever, headache, and raised skin rashes. Co-infections are most often culprits in tick-related panic attacks and anxiety, and these multiple infections from tick bites are quite common, occurring in an estimated 30 percent of cases.

Dr. Bransfield, who is also associate director of psychiatry at Riverview Medical Center in New Jersey (a state with a high prevalence of Lyme disease), points out that 240 peer-reviewed scientific articles demonstrate an association between Lyme and other tick-borne diseases and mental illness. For instance, a small study published in The Clinical Journal of Pain in 2005 found that patients experiencing panic attacks also suffered other symptoms not typical of standard panic attacks—extreme sensitivity to light, touch, and sounds, joint pain, mental fogginess, and migrating pain, all of which can be symptoms of Lyme disease—and those people tested positive for Lyme and babesiosis, which, like Lyme, is on the rise in the U.S. Once treated with antibiotics for both diseases, the patients no longer experienced panic attacks.

See the complete article for more details. And if you’re a Lyme patient suffering with anxiety and panic attacks, take heart and take care of your mental well-being. The article “9 Scientifically-Backed Ways to Stop Worrying” is a good place to start.

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