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herxheimer

How I survived the Herx

Ten years ago, one day in July, 2005, I was sick with Lyme, and vacillating between extremes. I was feeling pretty positive most of the day, symptoms not horrible, merely terrible…a big improvement.

But at that moment, my naturopath called, and our conversation sent me into a mental funk.

Through the brain fog, I strained to comprehend what he was suggesting.

He explained that he really didn’t want to prescribe antibiotics. But in the next breath he said that because I was not out of the woods, I really must use them.

He said antibiotics were crucial now, because there was a neurological involvement we must address. Neuroborrellia.

He recommended intravenous antibiotics, and thought I should have an IV for the next several weeks. That meant getting a catheter stuck into my arm and bringing home a portable IV stand with a bag. Then I would be injecting myself with antibiotics every day.

The thought of having a tube stuck into my arm me depressed me to no end. But the problem was, there was evidence that with Lyme disease, long-term antibiotics are effective. In fact, they may be the only way to prevent symptoms from returning.

It was a conundrum. I felt like I was being pulled in two directions at once. I did not want the catheter. I did not want to stay on antibiotics. I dreaded the Herx. But, I did want to kill the spirochetes, and I did want to get completely well.

Evan, however, was convinced that I was coming along really well. He was my systems-thinking cheerleader.

“Look at the numbers,” he said. “You have only been on the antibiotics for twelve days. You added a second antibiotic on Friday. Okay, so you herxed in misery. But instead of seeing that as bad,” he said, “look at it this way. The Herx proves the antibiotics are doing their job. They're killing the spirochetes efficiently.”

And it turned out that he was right. Doctors call it a die off. The Herx is one of the ways of measuring the effectiveness of the antibiotics. It’s a case of the cure being as bad as the illness.

Spirochetes — the original survivalists
Spirochetes are ancient organisms, eons older than dinosaurs. Over the ages they have had nothing else to do but refine their survival techniques.

For such minuscule critters, they’ve got a sophisticated arsenal of ways to keep from detected by your immune system. They can armor themselves with cysts to keep the antibiotics from reaching them, and morph into other forms, thus playing hide ’n seek in your tissues, muscles, organs, and brain.

The spirochetes are the villains, and the last thing they want is for the Terminator — your immune system — to locate and destroy them.

Fight back! Why anaerobic exercise helps
Lyme spirochetes thrive in a cold, low body temperature. I was beginning to get the idea that I would have to fight back, and fight hard. As much as possible, I started to include therapies and lifestyle changes that would increase my core body temp.

The good news is that Borrelia burgdorferi are anaerobic organisms and can't survive in a high oxygen environment.

My plan to fight back began to take shape back then. It started off pretty slowly I admit. Surviving the Herxes was easier said than done. I drank a whole lot of water with lemon. I slept. I endured and persevered, like you are doing.

Don't let the Herx scare you
I knew in my heart that the more I could manage to raise my core body temperature, the more the spirochetes I could kill. It was my main goal, to kill them, and to try to not kill myself with a Herx.

It wasn't easy trying to get enough exercise. I had a hard time standing up, let alone walking around the neighborhood. But I kept at it, determined to be as proactive in my healing as I could.

Today, ten years to the month from my diagnosis, I'm a martial artist, with two solid years of practice logged on my journey from Borreliosis to black belt.

You don't have to join a Taekwondo school. You don't have to sweat through hours of hot yoga, play basketball, dance, or climb steep mountainsides if you don't want to. But you do have to make a plan to be as proactive in your own healing as you possibly can. The doctors can only do so much. The rest is really up to you.

Did I ever get the IV antibiotics?

In the end, the decision was made for me. I couldn’t afford it, so I passed. These days, I might have been tempted, since now I've got health insurance. But in 2005, it simply wasn’t a choice.

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Want a Lyme test that looks for antigens?

"We have to go on," says Tom. "We can't change yesterday, but the thing that keeps us going is that sooner or later we're going to catch that bug in time, and save someone from going through this pain."

Tom was sick and suffering with mysterious symptoms for nine years before a test finally convinced one of his doctors that he did indeed have Lyme disease. At that point, he began taking antibiotics. In the first month, severe Herxheimer reactions made him even more ill than he had been without treatment, but he continued for five months. Three years later, he now feels better in most ways. Occasionally, he has bad days that he attributes to the Lyme bug, but feels that for the most part, it is suppressed.

"I thought I was dying," he says. Hit by a massive anxiety attack while driving through Kansas, he experienced such debilitating vertigo that he had to pull the car over to the side of the road. "Everything was spinning wildly around me."

"I had lost track of the number of doctors I went to for help over those nine years. One doctor in Massachusetts, who I knew thought I was crazy finally told me that he thought I was crazy. He told me there was nothing wrong with me, and recommended psychiatric help."

"He told me that he thought I was an 'attention-seeker'."

I said to him, "Look, doc. I'm a concert pianist and a concert organist. If I want attention, all I have to do is book a recital. I don't need attention from you."

The test that finally clinched the correct diagnosis for Tom is a special kind of technique called Flow Cytometry. It is available at the Central Florida Research Laboratory, located in Winter Haven, FL. Instead of looking for the antibodies that build up in response to a Lyme Borreliosis infection, the Flow Cytometry technique finds the Borreliosis antigens directly.

Since Spring 2007, the CFR lab has tested several thousand people for Lyme disease. Blood samples arrive from locations all over the globe,  including all over Europe, where Lyme disease is known simply as Borreliosis.

In addition to testing people, CFR also tests animals for Lyme. Please refer to the CFR website for more information about the Flow Cytometric Lyme test for pets and people.

Central Florida Research Laboratory
Winter Haven, FL
Medical Director: Clifford H Threlkeld, DO, FCAP
Phone Number: (863) 299-3232
Fax Number: (863) 299-3355
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Wake up call: Lyme symptoms return

About six weeks ago I got a nasty wake-up call. My Lyme symptoms began to return. To cut to the chase, I am getting things under control again slowly, but it's been a trial. 
 
Has that ever happened to you? 
 
"It's a rotten deal" to quote my dear old auntie, but it's more than that. I'm trying to keep the perspective that most of all it's a powerful reminder about the importance of staying firmly rooted in my healthy routine. 
 
I forget that I share my body and mind with a bunch of Lyme bugs. When I've got the situation under control, I kill them off slowly and without too much herxing, they don't act out, and I feel good. I can think and talk and walk and work and live and love, just like I was designed to do. The problems start when I forget (as I did six months ago) about the delicate balance I've got going on. Last year I was feeling so incredibly good, so Lyme-free, that I slowly let little things slip. I re-introduced some sugar into my diet. I let myself indulge in a beer now and again -- figuring it's got protein, B vitamins, minerals, magnesium, selenium, iron and it's a stress-buster in reasonable quantities. After all, I rationalized, it was surely not a recipe for disaster, right? 
 
But then, following a few months of slippage, the perfect storm hit. 
 
Literally. Our region was hit by snow-pocalypse in mid-December, leaving us without power for several days. It was cold. I was cold the whole time. We were snowed-in for over three days. My partner was dealing with a health concern of his own, which stressed us both out as we could not get out to get what we needed. In addition, I'd been sick with a flu prior to the storm, so my exercise routine was interrupted. I'd stopped taking a few of my mainstay supplements, and other stuff...you get the picture. When the snow melted and the power came back on I began to make up for lost time (or so I thought) by exercising twice as much, even introducing African dance classes into the mix, which, if you've ever done, is quite the workout! 
 
Anyway, the symptoms have had a hay-day with me, the bugs have been partying, and I'm finally, but ever-so-slowly returning from the brink of a really painful six-week herx. My worst since I was first diagnosed in 2005. 
 
The point is, we each have to determine what the right healing path is for us. For me, the two biggies are keeping up with my supplements and herbal therapies and not slacking on a sane amount of exercise. Also, it's about staying warm, as my body temp runs low, which is typical of people with a Lyme infection. Through trial and error I've also figured out which other things contribute to my personal homeostasis. 
 
And I'm freshly vigilant for the Lyme bugs, who have somehow not quite managed yet to eat my common sense (completely). I'm not going to slip again. 
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Support while detoxing

With all the talk about Swine Flu, there's an abundance of common sense about how to stay healthy making the rounds on the Internet, such as washing your hands regularly and supporting the immune system. Immune support is as central to keeping the flu bug away as it is in healing from Lyme disease. And one important step in keeping healthy is detoxification. Detox is part of the one-two punch in Lyme management (along with antibiotics) that RN Ginger Savely describes in our experts interview series. But what happens when you try to detox too quickly?

Anyone dealing with Lyme is painfully familiar with stressful "Herxheimer Reactions," which occurs when toxins - Lyme bacteria - in the body die off faster than the organs of elimination can handle. Learning how to manage Herxes is important yet tricky business. Essentially experienced as an increase in symptoms, Herxes can include nausea, headaches, brain fog, vertigo or mood swings, bringing more stress to an already stress-loaded system.

Some experts and patients say the Herx just comes with the territory, that it's unfortunately one of the crummy things that Lyme patients must endure in order to get better. However, others claim that painful Herxes are more likely to occur when the organs of elimination lack sufficient support. For example, Jean Reist, RN, claims that the intensity of a Herx can be reduced and in some cases eliminated altogether. How? By supporting the lymph system, an important part of the immune system and a major player in elimination. The lymph must be maintained in order to carry toxins away from the cells. An act as simple as drinking plenty of water each day and routinely jumping on a mini-trampoline can help move the lymph, and reduce the effects of a Herx.

The organs of elimination include the liver, the bowel, kidneys, skin and lungs. Yes, deep breathing, which is used in meditation and yoga practice, is a way to remove toxins from your lungs, so remember to support your body in healing by taking a deep relaxing breath.
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Dealing with Herxes



Herxing occurs when your body reacts to bacterial die-off, usually as a result of taking antibiotics. The herx itself isn't considered dangerous to your health, but it can be extremely unpleasant. Your body is cleansing itself of toxins, a crucial step. The problem is that this cleansing process stirs up symptoms and makes you feel sick. Doesn't seem fair, does it? Frequent or intense herxes can stress you out, and when you're healing from LD you need more stress like you need another hole in your head. However, herxing can help Lyme patients understand what's happening to them, and some folks say that observing their herxes helps them monitor the effectiveness of their therapy.

The naturopath I consulted while in the critical stage of Lyme agreed. He suggested that I use my herxes as a guide or measurement of sorts. When I was on antibiotics, a period of about six months, it was difficult for me to distinguish between a herx and the Lyme disease symptoms themselves. I came to the conclusion, at that time, that it didn't matter which was which. They were both equally devastating, and all I could do was deal with them the best way I knew how. I wasn't at liberty to lower my dosage of abx, because according to my doctor the Lyme bacteria were likely to replicate and get stronger if I did.

Some Lyme patients say they don't herx on certain protocols, such as Steven Buhner's herbal protocol, for example. Conventional antibiotic therapy does seem to cause intense herxing, which some would say is a good sign because it indicates that you're killing the bug. I found that there were several different ways to deal with a dismal, stressful herx that accompanies chronic Lyme.

Here are just a few:

* Number one: Drink more clean water all day long, even if you think you're already drinking a lot of water. That will go a long way toward flushing out the toxins.

* Number two: Have a bowel movement every single day. Get that stuff out of there!

* Another is to drink the juice of a lemon, straight. You can also blend a whole lemon with one or two tablespoons of olive oil, put the mixture into a glass of water or juice, and drink it down.

* Dry brushing is another favorite of mine for ridding your body of toxins. However, you can't use this method if your skin is rashy, because you may make it worse. If you don't have a rash, brush your dry skin gently toward your heart each morning before you shower. This method really helps your lymph system kick into gear, and toxins that have accumulated during the night wash away down the drain.

* Take a spoonful of vegetable oil, such as olive oil, first thing in the morning. This method is as yucky as it sounds, but it works for me. Hold the oil in your mouth and swish it around, but do not swallow it. After a minute, spit it out and rinse your mouth.

* Exercise, if you possibly can. (This also helps with #2 - the bowel movement.) Sitting around is one of the worst things we can do. We have to move the body, and assist the lymph system in its critical job of carrying nutrition to the cells, and carrying the garbage away. Jump on a rebounder for five minutes in the morning, and five at night, if that's all you can manage. It will really help.

* Watch a hilarious movie, or a stand-up comic you like. When you're laughing, your body's immune system kicks into high gear. You'll also find that your whole attitude improves, and you'll sleep better at night.

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Herxing and finding the balance

How do you tell the difference between a herx and Lyme symptoms? A herx, aka Herxheimer reaction, is many things to many people. When you're suffering, it doesn't seem to matter whether the cause is a herx or symptoms that are acting up. You just want them to stop. When you are infected with the Lyme bacteria, your body is loaded with toxins that react within your body's multiple systems and make you sick.

You have to kill the bugs and get them out of your body. Detoxifying, therefore, is a primary aim in healing from Lyme, but unfortunately, detoxing can also make you sick. When you're healing from Lyme you must try to find the balance between killing the bugs and keeping the herxes under control, so it doesn't feel like they are trying to kill you. Finding that balance is like surfing a giant wave. You must be hypervigilant, sensitive to your environment, and able to react as elegantly as possible to the perpetual changes that encompass you and carry you along. Although, as anybody who has ever suffered the stress and pain of Lyme symptoms or herxes would say, I'd rather be surfing.

It seems that herxing (often accompanied by a rash) can be triggered by a number of different factors. Stress, change of medication type and an increase in medication dosage (either herbal or pharmaceutical medications) are a few examples. Those in the Lyme community (albeit, an unwilling yet blessedly generous group of humans) deal with herxes in a wide variety of ways. That's the subject of my next post.

Until then, hang ten.
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Lyme disease symptoms: Is herxing necessary?

Lyme disease symptoms are also referred to as Herxheimer reactions or herxing. Would you herx if you discovered you didn't need to? This is a question that Jean Reist, R.N., asks her patients to take to heart. Jean, who has treated hundreds of Lyme sufferers through her PA clinic, Journey to Wellness, has discovered that when Lyme patients tend to proper lymph system drainage they don't experience the stress of a herx. Jean discusses her findings in an audio interview as part of the Interviews with Experts series on the LDRD.

Herxheimer reactions, the healing crisis experienced by Lyme sufferers as a result of a die-off of Lyme bacteria, are a major source of stress for Lyme patients. Simply put, the more effective the medicine in killing the spirochetes, the greater the herx. Killing Lyme bacteria is a curious business. Agonizing pain and the recurrence of symptoms is often used as a measure for the dosage. In general the rule is: If you're herxing to a great degree, back off on the medicine. If you're not herxing at all, you may not be taking a high enough dosage. Each patient will react differently to treatment, and with a wide variety of alternative treatments available, it may take some time and experimentation before you find the right dosage.

Proper lymph drainage can facilitate the healing of Lyme disease and help reduce or even eliminate Lyme disease symptoms altogether. At the first sign of a herx, Reist advises, drink copious amounts of water, exercise, and reach for a detoxifying tonic herb such as Burbur or Parsley. Each organ in the body has a lymph "neck," which is where blockage can occur. Therefore, it's very helpful for the patient to work with a health care practitioner who can help you locate the blockage. The next step is to work on unblocking, which can be achieved in a number of ways, Reist says.

You can hear the entire interview as a member, join now and listen.
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