Lyme Disease links to mental illness in children.

Clinically we find a multitude of neuro-psychological symptoms that present with children afflicted with tick-borne illnesses. Many of those symptoms did not exist prior to  exposure.  The number of children with anxiety disorders, OCD, mood dysregulation, ADHD, bipolar disorder, gender dysphoria and others are prominent and included in the working diagnosis and treatment plan of Lyme and other tick borne diseases.

There are countless studies linking neuro-psychological impairments with Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses many of which suggest a larger percentage of children are affected.

A review of literature reveals studies by Brian Fallon and others that  link Lyme disease to neurological and psychological ailments. New onset depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and other mental illnesses were postulated to be the result of a Lyme disease exposure. Fallon outlined several supportive strands of evidence throughout his research. He noted the incidence of mental illness is greater in those with Lyme disease versus other medical conditions. These psychiatric conditions were new onset and did not exist prior to contracting Lyme disease. Lastly, these mental illnesses improved after administering courses of antibiotic therapy. 

So what is thought to contribute to the psychological changes? Further evaluation thru single photon emission tomography or SPECT scans as it's known revealed that those with "Lyme disease typically have multifocal areas of decreased perfusion in the cortex and subcortical white matter" Fallon et al. 1997.

Cortical and subcortical perfusion is studied extensively with PTSD patients. The pattern of poor perfusion is similar to those who also suffer from a tick-borne illness. A result of poor perfusion can lead to  breakdown of the neural pathways  that provide an interconnectedness between all regions of the brain. Specifically, the subcortical regions play a significant role in emotional regulation. This is where your fight or flight response stems via control of Dopamine and other neurotransmitters.  Your cortical regions control sensory, motor and visual response. In the presence of Lyme disease, which has an affinity for the neurological system, inflammation occurs contributing to this poor perfusion state. It's plausible to suggest neurological and psychological changes as it relates to tick-borne illness.  

Studies directed specifically at the pediatric population were conducted by Rosalie Greenberg, a pediatric and adolescent psychiatrist. Although small, Dr. Greenberg studied 14 children diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She noted 6 to have positive mycoplasma, 3 with B. Burgdorferi the bacteria that causes Lyme disease , 10 with Babesia and 4  with Bartonella. ALL were diagnosed with tick borne diseases. Out of the 14 only 1 described typical joint pain associated with Lyme disease.

Bransfield and others discuss links for autism spectrum disorder development in children as evident by the spirochete that causes Lyme can be passed from an infected mother to her unborn child. This can lead to neurological ailments as well as significant immune dysfunction. Supportive evidence showed upwards of 30% of those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder had a positive blood test for Borrelia Burgdorferi, the spirochete that causes Lyme Disease. I'll certainly delve into autism and links to infection in the coming weeks as I'm fascinated!

Children present differently. Perhaps it is the vulnerable blood brain barrier or naïve immune system that contributes. We know in children the brain continues to develop until they reach their early 20's.  Studies looking closer at the link between childrens' neurological status and tick-borne illness speculates around 70% to present with onset of headaches, fatigue, mood disturbance, irritability and acute outbursts where symptoms did not previously exist. Anecdotally, I too have witnessed these accounts.

Let's postulate, just for fun, out of the 4 million children currently diagnosed with mental illness at least 30% or more of those have a tick-borne illness. That's roughly 1.2 million children whom could be cured of their mental illness by merely treating the infection with courses of antibiotics and/or natural remedies.

This certainly would present a fundamental paradigm shift within the mental healthcare community but isn't it worth it? Shouldn't we all Think Differently about mental illness?

The take home message here for parents. If your child (or you) present with sudden onset of neurological changes, mood swings, ADD/ADHD, sleep disturbances, motor or vocal tics, fasciculations, unfounded anxieties and fears, rage, impulsivity, concentration issues, dyslexia, regression with milestones etc, seek out an evaluation for tick-borne illnesses. Should your primary care provider refuse to perform the test or argue otherwise....find someone else!

Recent Tick-Task Force initiatives, passed by NY state legislators and championed by Senator Sue Serino, secured 1 million dollars to fund research that allow better understanding of the link between Lyme, tick-borne diseases and mental health issues. These funds will also help support preventative actions as well as raise awareness. It's solid movement in the right direction. This recent legislation would direct the Office of Mental Hygiene and Department of Health to conduct these studies. Fingers crossed for the follow thru! You can find more information about critical legislation passed recently in the NY senate and full description of the tick-borne illness initiatives by visiting serino.nysenate.gov.