Written by Dr. Valentina Quintana MD on
October 10, 2022
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Valentina Quintana MD on:

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Have you been diagnosed with Lyme disease and have been foggy-headed lately?

If so, you’re not alone.

Brain fog can be a frustrating and debilitating side effect of this illness.

In this post, we’ll discuss what causes brain fog and some ways that you can cope with it.

Let’s get into it.

What is Lyme disease, exactly?

Lyme disease, also called borreliosis, is a medical condition caused by bacteria carried by a tick, usually deer ticks.

Deer ticks are black-legged ticks that are most common in the northeastern, upper midwestern, and western parts of the United States.

The rash caused by Lyme disease looks like a bull’s-eye pattern and is accompanied by flu-like symptoms. Joint discomfort and chronic fatigue syndrome can also occur.

The majority of Lyme disease sufferers will recover completely after finishing a course of antibiotics. However, for those who continue to experience symptoms (known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome), pain medications may help to alleviate these symptoms.

Even though Lyme disease is rarely fatal, it is more severe when treatment is delayed, as the infection has more time to spread and your immune system has already weakened.

If you notice a characteristic rash or any other possible symptoms, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider immediately.

Causes

There are commonly two types of bacteria carried by ticks that cause Lyme disease:

Borrelia Burgdorferi

This is the most common Lyme disease-causing bacteria in the United States. It’s transmitted by black-legged ticks, most commonly deer ticks.

It is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks.

The bacterium borrelia burgdorferi enters the skin after the tick bite. The organisms migrate locally in the skin around the sting and disseminate via the lymphatics to produce local adenopathy or distribute in blood to organs or other areas of the body.

An inflammatory reaction occurs first, with a modest antibody response to infection. You may catch fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migraine as the initial symptoms.

Borrelia mayonii

This Lyme disease-causing bacterium is less common, but it can be more severe. It’s transmitted by the same type of tick as borrelia burgdorferi, but it’s found mainly in the upper Midwest.

The rash caused by borrelia mayonii is often described as a “bull’s eye” and can occur in any area of the body.

Borrelia mayonii is more likely to cause nausea and vomiting than Borrelia burgdorferi.

Symptoms

Lyme disease can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on how far the infection has progressed and weakened your immune system.

Early Lyme disease symptoms include:

  • A red, expanding rash called erythema migrans, which appears about a week after the tick bite and often looks like a bull’s eye.
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Cognitive impairment (a.k.a brain fog)
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Lyme disease can also cause more severe symptoms if it’s not treated early.

These include:

  • Lyme arthritis, which causes pain and swelling in the joints, usually in the knee.
  • Lyme carditis, which affects the heart and can cause an irregular heartbeat.
  • Lyme encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain and can cause seizures.
  • Lyme meningitis, which is inflammation of the membranes that cover the central nervous system.

How Lyme Disease Affects the Brain

Lyme disease can cause a number of problems in the brain, including:

Lyme encephalitis

This is an inflammation of the brain caused by Lyme disease. It can cause a variety of symptoms, including seizures, changes in behavior, and difficulty speaking or thinking clearly.

Lyme encephalitis is rare, but it can be very serious if not treated promptly.

Lyme meningitis

This is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It can cause a stiff neck, headaches, and sensitivity to light.

Lyme meningitis is a serious but rare condition that should be treated immediately.

Lyme neuropathy

This is a type of nerve damage that can be caused by Lyme disease. It can cause a variety of symptoms, including pain, numbness, and weakness in the affected area.

Lyme neuropathy might not be common, but it can become quite severe if not treated right away.

Lyme myelitis

This is an inflammation of the spinal cord that can be caused by Lyme disease. It can cause a variety of symptoms, including weakness, paralysis, and difficulty speaking or thinking clearly.

Lyme myelitis is rare, but if it’s left untreated, it can have severe consequences.

Lyme encephalomyelitis

This is an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord that can be caused by Lyme disease. It can result in a plethora of problems, from seizures and· alterations in behavior to impediments with speech or cognition.

Although Lyme encephalomyelitis is uncommon, it can be quite damaging if not treated promptly.

Lyme disease can also cause problems with memory and concentration, as well as fatigue and depression.

Risk Factors

There are only a few risk factors for Lyme disease, and these are the following:

Wooded and grassy areas

Infected black-legged ticks or deer ticks thrive in wooded and grassy areas. They are more common during the summertime, especially in various places in the United States, such as the Pacific Coast, Northeast, Upper Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic.

Exposed skin

Ticks can attach to any part of the body, but they are more likely to bite exposed skin, such as the arms and legs.

Lyme disease is preventable by taking a few simple precautions, such as the following:

  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when you’re in wooded or grassy areas.
  • Use insect repellent that contains at least 20% DEET on exposed skin.
  • Do a full-body tick check after you’ve been in a wooded or grassy area.
  • Remove ticks as soon as possible if you find them on your body.

Not removing ticks properly and immediately.

Not removing ticks immediately and correctly can increase your risk of Lyme disease.

To remove a tick properly:

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  • Pull the tick’s body away from the skin using a slow and steady motion. Do not twist or jerk the tick, as this can cause the mouthparts to break off and stay in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouthparts with tweezers.
  • Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

Complications

Untreated Lyme disease can cause a number of complications. These include:

Chronic inflammation in the joint

When the Lyme disease bacteria reach joint tissue, they cause inflammation, also known as Lyme arthritis. If the condition is not treated, significant harm to the joint may occur.

In the United States, at least one in four people with Lyme disease has been diagnosed with chronic Lyme arthritis.

Problems with cognitive function

Lyme disease can cause problems with cognitive function, also known as Lyme brain fog. It can make it hard for you to concentrate, remember things, and process information.

Some other indicators that you may have “Lyme brain” are forgetfulness, repeating words or phrases over and again, feeling disconnected and down, having insomnia or difficulty sleeping deeply, among others.

Lyme brain fog is an exasperating term for patients who, at one time, could juggle multiple tasks but can now lose their train of thought in the middle of a sentence or become disoriented and lost in familiar places.

Irregularities with heart rhythms

Lyme disease can cause Lyme carditis, which is an inflammation of the heart tissue. It can lead to irregular heart rhythms and even heart block, which is a potentially life-threatening condition.

Lyme bacteria rarely enters your heart tissue, but when it does, it slowly affects the electrical system. The signals have trouble properly and effectively traveling from your heart’s upper chambers to lower chambers at a steady pace. This is why it is called “heart block” by doctors.

Prevention

Lyme disease is preventable by taking a few simple precautions, such as the following:

Cover up

Wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts is one of the vital things you can do when you’re in wooded or grassy areas. Ticks are more likely to bite exposed skin, such as the arms and legs.

Wear light-colored protective clothing

Light-colored protective clothing will not only protect you from tick bites, but it will also let you spot ticks easily while keeping you relatively cool for the summer despite covering up.

Treat your clothing and gear with repellant.

Using 0.5% permethrin treatment on your clothes and gear will give you an extra layer of protection against Lyme disease-carrying ticks.

One study found that individuals who donned sneakers and socks treated with Permethrin were 73.6 times less likely to get bitten by a tick than those who didn’t wear any protection against ticks.

Use insect repellent

Use an insect repellent that contains at least 20% DEET on any exposed skin when you’re in wooded or grassy areas.

Check for ticks

Check for ticks frequently as possible, and check your body for ticks after being in wooded or grassy areas. If you find a tick on your body, remove it immediately.

Diagnosis

Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to other conditions.

The best way to find out if you have Lyme disease is to see a doctor as soon as possible after a tick has bitten you. It is most effectively treated in its early stages.

Your doctor will likely ask about your medical history and symptoms. They may also do a physical exam, such as looking for any Lyme disease-related rash.

Also, the condition is usually diagnosed based on your symptoms and a clinical assessment. In some cases, your doctor may order blood tests to look for Lyme disease antibodies.

Treatments

Antibiotics are one the leading prescriptions that help treat Lyme disease effectively. The type of antibiotic and the length of treatment depend on how far along the disease is.

Treating Lyme disease in its early stages often involve oral antibiotics, such as doxycycline or amoxicillin. If it progresses to a later stage, intravenous antibiotics may be necessary.

How to Cope with Lyme Brain Fog

Lyme brain fog can be frustrating and make it difficult to think clearly or focus. There are a few things you can do to help cope with Lyme brain fog:

Get plenty of rest

Lyme disease can be exhausting, so make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Consider taking naps during the day if you’re feeling tired.

Here are a few tips for a good quality slumber:

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule
  • Keep a cool and comfortable environment in your bedroom
  • Limit screens before bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime

Exercise

Lyme disease can make you feel fatigued, but regular exercise can help improve your energy levels. A moderate amount of exercise is the key – too much can actually make Lyme brain fog worse.

A few good exercises to try are walking, light jogging, biking, swimming, and yoga.

Eat a healthy diet

Lyme disease can make it difficult to eat a balanced diet, but it’s crucial to fuel your body with healthy foods. Focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.

You should also limit sugary and processed foods, as well as caffeine and alcohol. These can make Lyme brain fog worse.

Manage stress

Lyme disease can be stressful, and too much stress can impact your cognitive function negatively, so it’s essential to find ways to manage your stress levels. Consider trying relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.

You should also try to stick to a regular routine as much as possible. This can help Lyme brain fog feel less overwhelming.

Train your brain regularly.

Just like you exercise your body, it’s important to exercise your brain regularly to help improve cognitive function. Consider trying activities such as puzzles, crosswords, and brain games.

You can also try keeping a journal to help organize your thoughts. Writing down your goals for the day can also help you stay on track.

Concluding Thoughts

Lyme disease is a serious infection that can cause a variety of debilitating symptoms, including brain fog.

Lyme brain fog can be frustrating and make it difficult to think clearly or focus.

There are a few things you can do to help cope with Lyme brain: get plenty of rest, exercise, eat a healthy diet, manage stress, and train your brain regularly.

If you are experiencing Lyme brain fog, it’s important to see a doctor so they can properly diagnose and treat the condition.

If you want to learn more about reducing brain fog efficiently and bettering your overall brain health, head on to our blog for more helpful resources

 

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