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Mother and daughter - Lyme and tick-borne disease - impact on the brain and behavior

How do Lyme & Tick-Borne Disease Impact the Brain & Behavior?

  • A 37 year old man with a constant headache so intense any sound, light, or movement is intolerable.
  • A 26 year old with Multiple Sclerosis but with no family history of the disease.
  • A 12 year old girl with chronic muscle spasms so severe she requires a walker.
  • A 51 year old woman unable to retrieve words when she speaks.
  • A 10 year old boy with a sudden onset of an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • A 4 year old with intense rages that occur almost all day.
  • A 27 year old man with crippling anxiety that over 30 physicians and mental health providers were unable to treat effectively

All these cases are people with Lyme and  Tick-Borne Disease. It seems inconceivable that a little tick can cause such extremes and incapacitation.  Yet these diseases and autoimmune disease, in general, are on the rise.

**Dr. Roseann is hosting a professional training on the Neurocognitive and Neuropsychiatric impact of Lyme, Tick-Borne, and PANS/PANDAS with BCIA on June 29th. Learn More.**

Lyme Disease & Tick-Borne Disease Cases are on the Rise

According to ILADS President, Dr. Tom Moorcroft and the CDC an estimated 300,000 people are infected with Tick-Borne Disease annually.

While most people think Lyme Disease only occurs in America, it is seen on every continent except Antarctica. 14 US states and Europe have some of the highest concentrations of Lyme and  Tick-Borne Disease in the world.  Lyme Disease is correlated with a variety of physical illnesses including, Autism, Arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis. For example, census data from 1990 to 1990 demonstrates that death rates from MS and rates of diagnosed cases of Lyme virtually identically overlap.

How Do You Diagnose Lyme & Tick-Borne Disease?

Lyme and tick-borne disease are complex diseases that produce physical, cognitive, and psychiatric symptoms that present differently in each patient. One person may experience severe joint pain, and another may have brain fog and anxiety. Yet, they both have a Tick-Borne illness.

Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection caused by a spiral-shaped bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb). It is usually transmitted by the bite of an infected tick, but many also believe spiders and other biting insects can pass it on. Most people are shocked to learn that the bacteria can also be passed through the placenta of a pregnant woman to the fetus, which is referred to as congenital Lyme. Research from Schlesinger et al. (1985) denotes poor treatment outcomes for those with congenital Lyme.

Tick-borne disease symptoms may be acute, or they can wax and wane in a more long-term, chronic manner. Some symptoms appear immediately after a tick bite, but sometimes weeks, months or years pass before the disease presents making diagnosis and treatment even more complex. This waxing and waning of symptoms is confusing, leading to uncertainty regarding underlying cause. This makes one wonder if the tick bite or Lyme Disease one had months ago could be related to current symptoms.

Even with a sudden onset of symptoms, individuals may not get the proper treatment they need due to a misdiagnosis.  The reality is that most traditional, allopathic, physicians lack proper training in identifying and treating the normal tick bite. Many believe that there still has to be a tick bite bullseye rash. However, the tick bite bullseye rash is  is present only 12 to 42 percent of the time.

How Do You Treat Lyme & Tick-Borne Disease?

Access to proper tick bite treatment can often be hindered because there the medical community disagrees about how to identify those with Lyme Disease. Moreover, no perfect measures of identification exist.  Lacking good measures for Lyme Disease, which has been readily accepted for decades, is compounded by lacking measures for the dozens of co-infections.

Diagnosis guidelines do not require positive blood work, yet many physicians erroneously use the CDC epidemiology study submission guidelines for diagnosis. Thus, patients are often forced to pay out of pocket for the best diagnostic tools available, which are through private lab companies.

Relying on incorrect guidelines means patients are told they must have 5 out of 10 bands to be diagnosed with Lyme. This creates a major barrier to quick and necessary tick bite treatment. Only clinical opinion after a physical exam is required to make a diagnosis of Lyme.

The Stages of Lyme Disease

With Lyme, people need to understand that there are two stages to the disease: Early- and Late-Disseminated Lyme Disease. Early-Disseminated disease occurs within days to weeks after the tick bite. Tick bite Lyme Disease treatment at this stage helps to prevent later problems. If not caught early, the infection may spread to many other parts of the body, affecting the central nervous system (brain), the peripheral nervous system (nerves), the cardiovascular system, the liver, the eyes, and the muscles and joints.

During Late-Disseminated Lyme Disease, inflammation most commonly affects the joints and nervous system, and symptoms occur weeks, months or even years after a tick bite. This stage can also set in as little as two weeks after a bite. In some individuals, these symptoms may be the first symptoms of the disease. This makes it difficult to connect current depression or anxiety to a tick bite from months or years before. Moreover, if one had issues like depression, anxiety or learning difficulties before Lyme Disease, they may not make the connection to the Lyme when these issues worsen.

Are there Other Kinds of Tick-Borne Diseases?

Yes. While most people automatically think about Lyme Disease, they need to remember ticks carry multiple infections at the same time.

One common infectious disease that ticks carry is Babesia, a parasite that infects red blood cells and presents like malaria. It is difficult to detect, and symptoms can be mild. For example the, most common physical symptom is sweating. Babesia can lead to serious illness and when present with a co-infection, it can increase the severity of Lyme disease. Babesia is well known to be associated with neurocognitive and neuropsychiatric symptoms.

One teen patient experienced a sudden onset of anxiety for several years. The anxiety was so severe she she was unable to leave her home. Although she had all the telltale signs of tick-borne infection, specifically Babesia. Although other doctors missed this, in our first session I identified her as having Tick-Borne Disease  

The QEEG brain map clearly showed the illness that the long list of physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists three year period had missed. That led to never being treated properly., She could then be referred to a Lyme physician for proper treatment. Sadly, this teen had a clear-cut case of Lyme Disease and Tick-Borne Disease, but was never identified early and treated with antibiotics. This is an all too familiar story that leads to a case of Late-Disseminated Lyme, and more importantly, a lot of suffering and heartache.

What Neurocognitive & Neuropsychiatric Conditions Result from Lyme & Tick-Borne Disease?

Neurocognitive and Neuropsychiatric tick-borne disease symptoms can emerge either early or late in the disseminated phase of infection.  In untreated Lyme Disease, the encephalopathy can be moderate to severe, and can wreak havoc on an individual’s life.  Unfortunately, the average person sees 5 to 7 doctors before they are correctly diagnosed (Bransfield, (2014). Lyme Connection: Leir Center Presentation).In one common scenario,  an individual is certain they have Lyme and go to their physician.

The doctor then tells them they don’t have it or don’t meet the clinical criteria. Unless one takes control of their own medical care or sees a Lyme specialist, they may find themselves thinking they just have a psychiatric issue without a medical source. Individuals often go down this road only to find that they don’t get much relief this way either.

Bransfield (2007) and Weintraub (2009) note there are hundreds of peer-reviewed articles address a causal association between Lyme Disease and mental symptoms. Fallon and Neilds (1994) note that 40% of patients with Lyme Disease develop neurologic involvement of either peripheral or central nervous system. The range of neurocognitive, neuropsychiatric and physical symptoms is wide.

Neurocognitive Tick-Borne Disease Symptoms

  • Short-term memory loss
  • Difficulty with working memory and executive functioning tasks
  • Executive functioning Impairment
  • Difficulty sequencing information
  • Verbal fluency difficulties – such as name or word retrieval
  • Slow processing (listening, oral, and with written word)
  • “Brain Fog”
  • Sustained attention
  • Attentional switching
  • Problems with writing, math, and sustained reading/comprehension

Neuropsychiatric Tick-Borne Disease Symptoms

  • Irritability
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Sudden rage/anger
  • Nightmares
  • Impulse control/hyperactivity
  • Conduct problems/oppositional behaviors
  • Easy tearfulness
  • Anxiety or Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Withdrawn behaviors
  • Confusion
  • Mania
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Paranoia
  • Auditory/visual hallucinations
  • Sleep disturbances (too much or too little)
  • Sensory hyperarousal (typically auditory, visual, and touch)
  • Social skill deficits
  • PANS and Autism (it is estimated that 25% of those with Autism have PANS/PANDAS – O’Hara, N. (2014). Lyme Connection Mental Health Conference.

Other Physical Tick-Borne Disease Symptoms

  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Bell’s Palsy
  • Nerve Pain
  • Arthritis symptoms
  • Joint pain/Chronic Pain
  • Multiple Sclerosis symptoms/Lupus
  • Seizures
  • Stomach problems (very common sign of Tick-Borne Disease in children)
  • Frequent urination
  • Constipation
  • Vestibular dysfunction/Visual issues
  • Cardiac problems or POTS (25% of those with cardiac problems have Lyme) Phillips, S. (2015). Lyme Connection – Leir Center Conference
  • Unusual infections
  • Low nutrient levels in the blood
  • History of concussion

More important than looking for the traditional tick-borne disease symptoms is to look for a change in behavior or cognitive, social, or physical functioning, especially after a known case of Lyme or a tick bite. Lyme and tick-borne disease can create new symptoms but often overlooked is their ability to exacerbate what was already there.

What is Lyme & Tick-Borne Disease Prevention Important?

With Tick-Borne illness and Lyme Disease, prevention is key. Even if one already has Lyme Disease, they can get other tick-borne illnesses from another tick bite, so be sure to follow the BLAST protocol (lymeconnection.org).

The BLAST acronym –
Bathe after outdoor activity
Look for Ticks and rashes
Apply repellent
Spray the yard
Treat pets

All five components are essential in preventing disease. According to WCSU professor and Lyme Connection advisor Dr. Neeta Connally, aside from applying repellant, taking a shower immediately after being outside reduces your chance of the disease by 59%.* Being mindful to avoid high tick areas and doing a tick check are also important steps.

Non-Invasive Treatments for Lyme & Tick-Borne Disease?

Diet, exercise and stress reduction are essential for healing Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease. The body is physiologically designed to deal with stress first and healing second, so practicing daily relaxation techniques needs to be part of one’s healing regimen.

In my office, we use a variety of brain-based techniques (Neurofeedback, Biofeedback, Advanced Bio-Regulation Therapy, Meditation, Hypnosis, EFT/Tapping, etc.) to get the Central Nervous System (CNS) to calm down, which promotes self-healing.* My best advice for you or your child is to find a Lyme and PANS/PANDAS literate professional to work with so that you can get on the right path to healing.

To make an appointment for a consultation if you or someone you love has been experiencing tick-borne disease symptom, call 203.438.4848 or email [email protected]

**Dr. Roseann is hosting a professional training on the Neurocognitive and Neuropsychiatric impact of Lyme, Tick-Borne, and PANS/PANDAS with BCIA on June 29th. Learn More.**


Dr. Roseann is a Psychologist who works with children, adults, and families from all over the US, supporting them with research-based and holistic therapies that are bridged with neuroscience. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and is a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS) and Epidemic Answers. She is also a member of the American Psychological Association (APA), National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), Connecticut Counseling Association (CCA), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).

*The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge & Associates does not guarantee certain results.

©Roseann-Capanna-Hodge, LLC 2019

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