There are many people that believe that Lyme is no big deal. It’s just a rash and flu-like symptoms. No worries. Why should they care.
Lyme can affect people in different ways; with different symptoms; and yes, it can cause death. There are three stages to Lyme: Acute Lyme, Early Disseminated and Late Disseminated. The bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb), can affect any system in your body. Although Neurological Lyme is a big issue and more people now know about it, very few people know about Lyme carditis.
There is a doctor in Canada who has been trying to raise awareness of Lyme carditis for quite some time now. Dr. Adrian Baranchuk is a Professor at Queen’s University and a Clinician-scientist at Kingston General Hospital. He has written papers regarding the subject and has been interviewed numerous times. However, what he has been saying has, for the most part, fallen on deaf ears.
Lyme carditis is when Bb attacks the heart. According to the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, “The bacteria hinders your heart’s electrical system, as it enters the heart tissue and can interfere with electrical signals, causing a condition called heart block.” (https://www.upmc.com/services/heart-vascular/conditions-treatments/lyme-carditis). According to the CDC, “Between 1985 and 2019, eleven cases of fatal Lyme carditis were reported worldwide.” (https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/treatment/lymecarditis.html)
Dr. Baranchuk wrote a blog post for the Lyme Disease Association, Inc. in May of 2021 – https://lymediseaseassociation.org/blogs/lda-guest-blogs/adrian-baranchuk-md-guest-blog/ – in which he notes that “Other cardiovascular manifestations include alterations of the ‘motor’ of the heart (sinus node disease) (3), a disorganization of the cardiac rhythm that increases the risk of stroke (atrial fibrillation) (2), lesion in the distal cables of the heart (bundle branch blocks) (4), and different degrees of inflammation of the layers of the cardiac walls (myocarditis, pericarditis, and endocarditis) (2).”
Dr. Baranchuk also notes in the blog entry that “Decision for permanent pacemaker implantation should wait until completion of antibiotics as heart block in LC is often reversible.” Unfortunately, very few doctors are aware of Lyme carditis and even more will not consider it as they don’t believe it is common.
Although Lyme carditis may not be as common as the erythema migrans rash, and some other more objective symptoms, I do believe it is much more common than known. For instance, since 2011, I have spoken to several people just in Nova Scotia whose hearts were affected by Bb. In some cases they received IV antibiotics and in others they received a pacemaker. In one case, a young gentleman received a pacemaker but a curious doctor started to ask questions due to his age and how his heart was affected. This resulted in testing for Lyme, which came back positive. Unfortunately, curious doctors seem to be few and far between these days, for a number of reasons.
If you are having light-headedness, fainting, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and/or chest pain (CDC) and a specific cause has not been determined, please give Lyme carditis some consideration. If you spend any time outdoors or have pets that do, please raise the issue with your doctor. It is better to be safe, than sorry, and it is treatable.
The following articles/interviews regarding Lyme carditis should provide enough information to investigate further. There are many more documents regarding this issue so I don’t understand why it still seems like an unknown issue by many health care providers. Please educate yourself, and your medical team, if necessary:
- Lyme carditis: Things can get complicated with Lyme disease affects heart function – https://www.queensu.ca/gazette/stories/lyme-carditis-things-can-get-complicated-when-lyme-disease-affects-heart-function
- Research team pioneers simple diagnostic tool for Lyme-related heart condition – https://hospitalnews.com/research-team-pioneers-simple-diagnostic-tool-lyme-related-heart-condition/
- Suspicious Index in Lyme Carditis (SILC): Systematic Review and Proposed New Risk Score – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328453978_Suspicious_Index_in_Lyme_Carditis_SILC_Systematic_Review_and_Proposed_New_Risk_Score
- Diagnosis and Treatment of Lyme Carditis: JACC Review Topic of the Week – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30765038/
- Fatal Lyme carditis presenting as fluctuating high-grade atrioventricular block – https://www.cmaj.ca/content/192/21/E574
- Lyme carditis presenting with an atypical rash – https://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/192/21/E584.full.pdf
- Looking at Lyme podcast – https://www.lookingatlyme.ca/2021/10/41-looking-at-lyme-carditis-with-dr-adrian-baranchuk/
- Queen’s researchers discovery: Lyme carditis can be deadly and is more easily treated than we thought – https://www.kingstonist.com/news/queens-researchers-discovery-lyme-carditis-can-be-deadly-but-is-more-easily-treated-than-we-thought/
- Cardiologist: Early recognition of Lyme carditis can save your life – https://www.lymedisease.org/cardiologist-baranchuk-lyme-carditis/
- Chest palpitations in a teenager as an unusual presentation of Lyme disease: case report – https://bmcinfectdis.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12879-020-05438-0
I’m not trying to terrify people with the articles I write. I don’t want to keep people from going outside. I do, however, want people to take the issue more seriously and undertake appropriate preventative measures when heading outdoors and to make sure pets that go outside are checked carefully.