Lyme disease often causes dysautonomia, a disruption of autonomic nervous system function, so that the ANS responds inappropriately to stimulus. Involuntary functions of the body and which are regulated by the ANS, such as heart rate, blood pressure and breathing, become compromised when this system gets out of whack. Manifestations of dysautonomia include conditions such as POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), neurocardiogenic syncope, mitral valve prolapse, as well as others.
Thanks, Borrelia. You really know how to screw up a body!
POTS, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, has been my body’s preferred way of reacting to Borrelia’s intrusion. This condition, which produces tachycardia, breathing problems and blood pressure irregularities, is a result of the heart and circulatory system being unable to compensate for changes in posture. Because of this, it’s difficult for me to stand up for long periods of time without moving around. Indeed, I can walk five miles easier than I can stand in line for fifteen minutes.
I’ve learned to detest shopping, since this involves a lot of standing with very little movement. Whenever the the check-out line is long, or the woman in front of me takes too long to count out her change, I want to tear somebody’s head off. No, I’m not a violent person, but the discomfort I endure as a result of POTS makes me sprout horns. Waiting in line leaves me weak and tired; my breathing becomes labored, my chest aches, and my heart starts going a million miles a minute to compensate for the lack of blood in my upper body as a result of low blood pressure.
But it’s been worse. When I first “crashed” as a result of Lyme disease in 2004, just three months before presidential elections, I remember standing in line to vote–a line that I had to wait in for two hours, mind you–and my heart was racing so wildly that I could hear it in my head and feel it in my chest. I had to sit down in line to avoid passing out. I recall a similar experience, waiting to get my driver’s license renewed in 2005, and suffering horrendously under the strain of having to wait in line, again, for an extended period of time. Incensed, I had wondered why the government couldn’t provide chairs for the disabled. These episodes, ironically, would leave me fatigued for days afterward. Yes, standing stressed my body out THAT much.
Improvements to my health have meant that I’m less likely to want to claw somebody’s eyes out whenever I have to stand up for extended periods of time, but my POTS is still enough of a problem that I sit down during worship service in church and avoid prolonged shopping excursions. If I have to wait more than ten minutes for the bus, I start shifting my weight around and fold my arms over my chest, because somehow, it compensates for the unease that I feel in my body.
Nobody has any great solutions for fixing dysautonomia. Yet, if you suffer from its manifestations, you know how disabling and uncomfortable these can be. Healing Lyme disease may resolve problems of the autonomic nervous system, but in the meantime, what can you do to manage the dysfunction?
In the case of POTS and similar conditions where blood pressure, heart rate and breathing are out of whack, drinking lots of water and ensuring plenty of sea salt in the diet increases blood volume and helps to normalize blood pressure and heart rate. Eating small meals also helps, as does keeping caffeine and refined sugar out of the diet. Building muscle tone in the legs through moderate exercise or wearing support hose help to keep blood from pooling in the lower part of the body, and hence, also work to normalize breathing and heart rhythm. Moving around frequently can likewise alleviate symptoms. Some people take drugs such as Florinef to increase aldosterone (an adrenal hormone that helps to regulate blood pressure),or beta blockers to normalize erratic heart rhythms, but these often cause more problems than they solve.
If you suffer from POTS, avoiding standing for prolonged periods is important, but lying down for too long during the day actually exacerbates the problem. If you are bedridden due to Lyme, it is better to sit propped up on the sofa if you suffer from dysautonomia.
Furthermore, people will dysautonomia tend to have other problems, such as hypoglycemia, and symptoms of chronic fatigue. Treating these other issues can often lessen symptoms of dysautomia.
As I know less about other manifestations of dysautonomia, for the time being, I won’t offer suggestions for dealing with those here, but for more information on these, as well as POTs, visit: www.ndrf.org, or http://www.home.att.net~potsweb/POTS.html. In the meantime, if you know of any miraculous solutions for treating POTS, I’d love to hear them!