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Lyme disease 101: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Lyme disease is a little-understood condition in Australia, and often flies under the radar. But it can have a significant impact on your life and may be more prevalent than many realise.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a tick or vector borne illness caused by spirochete bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto, or many strains of Borrelia spp. It may also be known as Borreliosis or “Lyme-like” disease.

It’s unclear which Borrelia strains are present in Australia and Lyme disease is generally poorly recognised amongst the medical community. A study from 1994 concluded there were no ticks carrying Borreliosis in Australia, and this impression has carried through to the modern day.

Recent evidence suggests Lyme disease is not just spread by ticks. It may also be spread by carriers such as mosquitos and sand flies, sexually transmitted or passed on through breast milk or in utero (Lyme disease: The Basics, 2024).

Lyme disease is not formally recognised in Australia, so there are no concrete statistics to draw on. However, the Lyme disease Association of Australia (Statistics, 2024) estimates around 24,000 people in Australia contract Lyme disease each year – so it’s certainly worth being aware of!

Lyme disease is a complex and often poorly understood condition, but being aware of it can help you monitor your own health.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

How do you recognise Lyme disease in yourself and others? Symptoms differ depending on the stage the disease is in.

Common symptoms of early Lyme disease

  • Rashes

  • Fatigue

  • Flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, joint pain, and muscle aches

  • Stiff neck

  • A painful burning, prickling, or aching feeling

  • Lymphadenopathy, which is when your lymph nodes are abnormal in size or consistency

  • Facial nerve dysfunction leading to weakness or paralysis of facial muscles (often mislabelled as Bell’s palsy)

Common symptoms of late stage or chronic Lyme disease

  • Fatigue

  • Multiple red rashes

  • Severe headaches and neck stiffness

  • Joint swelling and/or pain

  • Neuropathic symptoms including nerve pain, numbness, hot/cold sensations, tingling

  • Cognitive dysfunction

  • Memory impairment

  • Unprovoked pain which may interfere with sleep

  • Heart palpitations or chest pain, shortness of breath

  • Light-headedness, fainting

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms

  • Psychiatric symptoms including depression, anxiety, and mood changes

It’s important to note that Lyme disease is almost always accompanied by co-infections, which means the symptoms – and recognising them – can be complex. (Lyme disease: The Basics, 2024).

Dr Richard Horowitz, an expert who has been treating Lyme disease for 28 years, says,

“The overall ‘symptom complex’ may include: immune dysfunction; inflammation; environmental toxicity; allergies; nutritional and enzyme deficiencies, with functional medicine abnormalities in biochemical pathways; mitochondrial dysfunction; neuropsychological issues, autonomic nervous system dysfunction, endocrine abnormalities, sleep disorders; gastrointestinal abnormalities, with abnormal liver functions; and issues with pain, drug use and physical deconditioning.” (Lyme disease: The Basics, 2024).

How is Lyme disease diagnosed?

This is the tricky part. The Department of Health in Australia will not recognise a case of Lyme disease unless the affected person has travelled overseas. If you haven’t travelled, doctors are instructed to not test for Lyme disease, regardless of the symptoms observed.

If you have travelled overseas and have symptoms consistent with Lyme disease, you will be referred to an infectious disease specialist who may provide an official diagnosis. (Australian Lyme?, 2024)

How is Lyme disease treated?

Because it is so difficult to receive an official diagnosis of Lyme disease, it can also be tricky to receive proper treatment. Medical practitioners may be hesitant to identify and treat a condition as Lyme disease, as it can have professional repercussions for them (Australian Lyme?, 2024).

So, if you suspect you may be suffering from Lyme disease, you may choose to consult a complementary practitioner such as a Lyme-literate naturopath who is able to diagnose and treat Lyme without these concerns.

A naturopath can help you put in place a treatment plan, which is different depending on the stage of the disease.

Treating acute Lyme disease

If you’ve been bitten by a potential carrier of Lyme disease and are experiencing symptoms, or otherwise suspect you’ve been infected, you should seek medical help immediately. A course of antibiotics, such as doxycycline is usually recommended.

You can complement this with herbal treatments, probiotics and nutritional supplementation, both to address the symptoms of Lyme disease and to minimise the side effects of the antibiotics (Thompson et al. 2023).

An official diagnosis can be timely and expensive, so its worth treating the symptoms straight away. Follow up blood tests and medical assessments can help decide further treatment.

If you don’t receive timely treatment, you may risk progressing to chronic Lyme disease, which can take months or years to resolve.

Treating chronic Lyme disease

Prolonged infection with Lyme disease can have serious impacts for your health, including tissue, nerve and organ damage, systemic inflammation and even damage to collagenous tissues, the spinal cord and brain.

Long term use of antibiotics and pharmaceutical antimicrobials can become ineffective and problematic (Shor et al. 2023). Because of this, herbal medicine and other nutritional supplements play an important role in treating chronic Lyme disease.

Treatment prescribed by a Lyme-literate naturopath is designed to:

  • Boost detoxification pathways

  • Restore depleted adrenals

  • Fight against bacterial infection

  • Reduce inflammation

  • Support immunity

  • Test for co-infections, toxins and heavy metal load

  • Support you through the emotional and mental impact through counselling

  • Promote dietary and lifestyle changes to support better overall health

At Realign Health, our resident naturopath, Roxana, is a Lyme-literate naturopath offering naturopathy consultations not just for Lyme disease and coinfections, but other various associated conditions.

In fact, Roxana has personal experience with Lyme disease. She has managed and overcome the challenges of a specific Lyme disease condition called neuroborreliosis and is passionate about helping others navigate their way to health as well.

If you suspect Lyme disease may be impacting your health, get in touch today to book in to see Roxana and design a treatment plan for you.




Lyme disease Association of Australia, Statistics, 2024

Lyme disease Association of Australia, Lyme disease: The Basics, 2024

Lyme disease Association of Australia, Australian Lyme?, 2024

Thompson, A, Hynicka, LM, Shere-Wolfe, KD., A Comprehensive Review of Herbal Supplements Used for Persistent Symptoms Attributed to Lyme disease, Integrative Medicine, 2023

Shor, S.M.; Schweig, S.K., The Use of Natural Bioactive Nutraceuticals in the Management of Tick-Borne Illnesses, Microorganisms, 2023


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