Lyme disease treatment

DISCLAIMER: Caudwell LymeCo charity shares public domain  information, which it believes to be reliable, in good faith. It should never replace the advice of a qualified physician with a license to practise medicine. If you believe any information on this website to be incorrect, you are invited to contact the charity using the Contact page.

This page contains information on the following aspects of Lyme disease treatment:

  1. How is early (acute) Lyme disease treated?
  2. Can Lyme disease go away by itself?
  3. How is long-term (chronic) Lyme disease treated?
    • Long-term prescription antibiotic therapy
    • Additional drugs to manage symptoms and complications
    • Antimicrobial herbal therapy
    • Nutritional supplements
  4. Alternative and experimental treatments

Caudwell Lyme Disease Charity does not offer individual medical advice, and does not hold an opinion on which treatments for Lyme disease are advisable. The information on this page is simply an overview of some of the treatments commonly used by patients to manage their illness. You should always seek the advice of a suitably qualified doctor with a license to practise medicine.

Lyme disease treatment is a contentious issue, particularly for the patients who suffer long-term illness, and more scientific research in this area is desperately needed.

1. How is early (acute) Lyme disease treated?

It is generally believed that, if caught early and treated adequately with the right antibiotics, Lyme disease can be cured completely. If you are diagnosed with Lyme disease and prescribed antibiotics, it is very important to take the full course of treatment. Doxycycline and Amoxycillin are the antibiotics most commonly prescribed to treat Lyme disease. The current NHS guidelines (which are brief guidelines issued by Public Health England for doctors to refer to, not full guidelines produced by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence) recommend 2 to 4 weeks of antibiotic treatment, depending on symptoms.

It is generally agreed that the earlier Lyme disease is treated, the more likely the patient is to make a complete recovery.

Medical evidence regarding which are the right antibiotics, the right length of treatment, and statistics on cure rates, is sorely lacking. There is much debate on these topics which, because of the almost complete absence of good quality evidence, is little more than an exchange of opinions.

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2. Can Lyme disease go away by itself? 

Some people in the UK claim that Lyme disease goes away by itself after a while, like a cold or the flu (this is called a “self-limiting illness”). This is based on the fact that some people are found to have Lyme disease antibodies, without recalling ever having been ill with Lyme disease. There is no objective statistical evidence evaluating how commonly this occurs in cases of Lyme disease infection. There is also no published medical theory attempting to explain why some people may heal from Lyme disease whilst other do not.

Because some people do appear to recover naturally in this way, there are doctors who claim that there is no such thing as a long-standing or chronic Lyme disease infection, in the same way that there is no such thing as chronic flu. However, there is no medical evidence to back up their claim.

3. How is long-term (chronic) Lyme disease treated?

NHS treatment

The Public Health England treatment guidelines, currently the reference for UK doctors, state that Lyme disease is cured by a short course of antibiotics lasting 2 to 4 weeks even at the late stage of the illness. Longer periods of treatment may be necessary in cases of neuroborreliosis (Lyme disease severely affecting the brain).

If Lyme disease is left untreated for months or years before treatment begins, however, a percentage of patients report that they never recover even when treated.

Additional drugs to manage symptoms and complications

The majority of patients with long term Lyme disease are prescribed drugs to manage the symptoms of the disease, even if they are not taking antibiotics.

A survey of 500 patients by Caudwell Lyme Disease found that Lyme disease patients in the UK is most commonly prescribed the following drugs each year:

Drugs prescribed to Lyme disease patients on the NHS SOURCE: Caudwell Lyme Disease survey of 500 patients
Drugs prescribed to Lyme disease patients on the NHS SOURCE: Caudwell Lyme Disease survey of 500 patients

The commonest drugs prescribed are painkillers of all kinds, ranging from paracetamol and ibuprofen to codeine and steroids.

Antidepressants and sleeping pills are also very frequently prescribed to help patients live with the sleep disorders that are almost universal among Lyme disease patients.

Thyroid hormone supplements (Levothyroxine and Liothyronine), to treat hypothyroidism, are prescribed to 12% of Lyme disease patients (compared with less than 2% of the general population) to treat their hypothyroid conditions.

Beta blockers are also commonly prescribed to treat the serious heart arrhythmias (irregular heart beat) which affect around 8% of Lyme disease patients. It may be that a considerable number of Lyme patients have intermittent heart arrhythmias which are not diagnosed or treated.

4. Alternative and experimental treatments

Long-term antibiotic therapy

Some doctors who treat long-term Lyme disease patients privately – most of whom work outside the UK – prescribe several antibiotics at once. They sometimes prescribe other drugs as well, for months or sometimes years. Some doctors initiate treatment with intravenous antibiotics, to maximise tissue saturation in certain organs like the heart.

There is a lack of published research demonstrating that such approaches are really effective, and there is also a lack of evidence that they are not. Some research papers have been published with conclusions that “Long term antibiotic therapy is ineffective against Lyme disease” on the basis of trialling only one antibiotic, and only for periods of three months or so. Patients and some doctors would argue that this is too short a time period, if compared to the time periods used to cure some other bacterial infections such as tuberculosis, syphilis or rheumatic fever, for example, and that the wrong antibiotics have been used for the trial.

This is a controversial area, amongst patients as well as doctors. More research is desperately needed for the debate to shift into an evaluation of evidence, rather than an exchange of assumptions and preconceptions.

One of the major factors preventing the publication of research is that fact that doctors who prescribe these long courses of antibiotics for Lyme patients are going against the guidelines established in the past, without evidence. A number of them have had their medical licenses taken away and even had legal action taken against them. This clearly discourages such doctors from publishing reports about their experiences of treating patients with these therapies.

Antimicrobial herbal therapy

Many patients, after prolonged periods of illness with Lyme disease, try tackling the infection, or their symptoms, with antibacterial herbs.

The three most commonly used antibacterial protocols used to manage Lyme disease are;

  • the Cowden Protocol, based on herbs from the rainforst used by native Americans to treat Lyme disease for generations, and
  • the Buhner Protocol, developed by a herbalist who has experimented with his own protocol for Lyme and co-infections, and
  • more recently, a new Lyme Plus Protocol has been developed by the BCA clinic in Augsburg in association with two universities; this BCA herbal protocol was developed specifically to target European strains of Lyme and several co-infections.

Please follow the links in bold for more information on each herbal protocol.

Nutritional supplements

Many Lyme disease patients support their immune systems and ease various symptoms with nutritional supplements.

Borrelia Burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, is a fastidious bacterium, meaning it feeds not only on glucose but on a range of other nutrients as well. For researchers to cultivate Borrelia Burgdorferi in a lab they have to use a complex growth medium containing over thirteen different ingredients.

This complex nutritional requirement of the bacteria may be why Lyme patients typically develop deficiencies in certain nutrients, no matter how healthily they try to eat. The commonest supplements taken include magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin B12 and all the B vitamins in general.

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