In this article:
Infections and other chronic health diseases can take a toll on the thyroid gland, especially for people with an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Although the relationship is not well understood by researchers, there is some evidence that Lyme disease may cause thyroid problems to develop.
Lyme disease comes from tick bites. Ticks are insects that commonly live in woody and grassy areas, typically at higher elevations. Yet, they can also be found in cities and along the coast. People who live in tick regions are at greater risk for getting a tick bite.
Some species of ticks carry Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria that can give you Lyme disease, a chronic illness. When you become infected with this bacteria, it can cause a slew of non-descript symptoms. Often, it is hard to nail down what is causing you to feel so poorly unless you go through extensive testing.
Lyme can affect almost every system in the body. Because there are so many symptoms, it can be tough to nail down what is causing a person to feel so sickly. Indeed, the only true sign of Lyme disease is a bulls-eye rash that appears around the site where the tick bite occurred. With that said, not many people with Lyme disease report seeing a bull's eye rash.
People with this disease often experience the following symptoms:
- Muscle pain and joint pain
- Pain that is shooting or radiating
- Poor cognition
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Flu-like symptoms
The above symptoms are usually early signs of Lyme disease. However, if it goes untreated and unnoticed, it can lead to late-stage symptoms, which may be irreversible.
Late-stage symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Hormone imbalances and deficiencies
- Dysfunctional immune systems
- Neurological issues, and
- Mental health challenges like moodiness, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks
Some evidence suggests that Lyme disease can lead to thyroid problems. As seen above, one of the late-stage symptoms of this chronic illness is hormonal imbalances and deficiencies.
Researchers know that chronic illness and prior infections can cause thyroid problems like hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and Hashimoto's disease. Inflammation of the thyroid gland is the hallmark sign of autoimmune thyroid disease. Because Lyme disease is a system-wide infection, leading to tissue inflammation in whatever organ(s) it infiltrates. When the thyroid becomes inflamed, it struggles to produce enough thyroid hormone. The body needs thyroid hormones to regulate metabolism in the form of blood pressure, blood temperature, and heart rate.
It is relatively common for people with Lyme disease to develop Hashimoto's. Some doctors may test their patients for Lyme disease if they have Hashimoto's and struggle to manage symptoms. There is a lot of overlap between Lyme disease and Hashimoto's disease, adding to the complexity of these two health conditions.
If you know you had a tick bite, it is much easier to treat Lyme disease. However, many people are unaware they had a tick bite, so the bacteria can reside in their body for a long time, making it harder to diagnose and treat.
Suppose you have the above symptoms with no plausible cause, or you have a known tick bite. In that case, your medical doctor will order several tests to see if you have the bacteria. Blood tests in the early stages of infection are unreliable. They are best taken a few weeks after the initial infection from the infected tick. However, treatment should begin right away if you know you had a tick bite.
Blood tests that identify Lyme disease include:
- Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)
- Western blot (used to confirm positive ELISA tests)
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
People diagnosed with Lyme disease need treatment to help kill the bacteria in their bodies as soon as possible. Lyme is best treated in the early stages, but many people do not know they have it until it progresses. Treatment options involve taking antibiotics. If it is an early infection, oral antibiotics generally will eradicate the bacteria. However, people with more acute symptoms may require IV antibiotics followed by oral antibiotics.
You can avoid contracting Lyme disease by decreasing your risk of getting a tick bite with the following steps:
Wearing protective clothing
Wear long pants and long sleeves when you are outside, especially in regions with ticks
Using bug spray
Use insect repellent with at least 10% DEET (not to exceed 30%). You will need to reapply every two hours. You can also use bug spray that has oil of lemon eucalyptus, but it is not safe for children under age 3.
Doing daily skin checks
Make sure to set your eyes on every part of your body each day. Ticks can be in plain sight, but they can also tuck away in not-so-visible areas. When they hide in your hair or a skin fold, they go unnoticed for some time.
Removing ticks immediately
If you see a tick, remove it immediately with tweezers near its head and mouth. Ensure you get the whole insect, as leaving the mouth intact could continue to release bacteria. Check out the CDC Guide for Tick Removal to be as thorough as possible.
Checking your pets
Domesticated animals are known carriers of ticks. Indeed, your dog and cat are just as prone to becoming sick as humans, and it can be deadly.
Clear your yard of wooded debris
Ticks like to hang out in piles of wood and thick underbrush. Keep your yard as unfriendly to ticks as possible.
A note from Paloma Health
Research is still unclear on the extent to which Lyme disease affects the thyroid. Still, there is a relationship between the two. If you struggle to control your hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's symptoms, meet with a Paloma Health thyroid doctor to talk about other causes of your symptoms and optimize your thyroid health.