A Protozoan Parasite that Infects Red Blood Cells
One of the more common co-infections that can accompany chronic Lyme disease is a protozoan parasite known as babesia. Babesia is a protozoan, which means "little animal", and is biologically different from a bacterium, such as borrelia burgdorferi (the Lyme bacteria). In fact, babesia is more closely related to humans, as we're both eukaryotic organisms -- we both have cells that contain a nucleus -- rather than the lyme bacteria, which is a prokaryotic organism -- a single-celled organism with no nucleus.
Babesia can be transmitted through a tick bite, and it can even be the same tick bite that transmits Lyme. When babesia enters the body, it can cause a whole host of symptoms that can range from mild or severe, to no symptoms at all depending on immune and spleen function. Babesia specifically infects red blood cells, where it feeds and reproduces, and then destroys the red blood cell, which can lead to low oxygen levels (i.e., extreme fatigue).
The severity of a babesia infection depends on immune function, as well as spleen function, because part of the spleen's job is to filter the blood and remove damaged red blood cells . People who have great immune and spleen function may experience no symptoms at all. People who have low immune function, but a properly functioning spleen can experience mild to moderate symptoms. People who have normal or low immune function with poor spleen function -- or lack a spleen -- can experience severe, debilitating, and life-threatening symptoms.
Most Common Babesia Symptoms
Even though babesia can cause a wide range of symptoms, with many of them overlapping other infections such as lyme and bartonella, there are symptoms that can be very suggestive of a babesia infection. It's important to identify these symptoms as any good lyme-literate physician will take them into great consideration, even if lab tests for babesia come back negative.
Air Hunger (Difficulty Breathing)
Even after making a deliberate attempt to take the deepest breath possible, air hunger can leave a person, dealing with babesia, completely unsatisfied with their oxygen intake. Many describe the symptom as "an elephant sitting on my chest" or just not getting that satisfying feeling after taking a breath. But the body needs oxygen, and it will make every effort to get it - yawns may excessively present themselves. You may just need to standstill for a second to get that satisfying breath and/or refrain from activities that require excessive oxygen intake in the meantime.
With babesia, It isn't uncommon to experience fluctuations in body temperature that leave one feeling really cold or really hot, and depending on the immediate environmental temperature, completely intolerant of it. While it's important to have your thyroid checked as a possible cause for this symptom, a normal thyroid panel with the presence of temperature variations and intolerance may be suggestive of a babesia infection.
For many lyme-literate physician, experiencing the "sweats" during the day and excessively at night, is the smoking gun symptom of a babesia infection. Excessive sweating usually occurs at night, while a person is asleep, but it can happen during the day. Many describe waking up in the middle of the night and throwing the covers off because their whole body is completely drenched in sweat -- even in air conditioning.
Pain in Liver Region
The region directly below your right breast is where your liver resides, and directly to the left, your spleen. Pain and/or discomfort in these regions may be suggestive of liver and/or spleen inflammation, as these two organ are important for dealing with a babesia infection. A physicial examination and lab tests can determine if these two organs are functioning properly.
Supplements such as glutathione can be extremely useful in reducing liver inflammaiton, and the herb red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza) for spleen inflammation. Dosing for liposomal glutathione can be found on treatlyme.net, and dosing for red sage can be found in Stephen Buner's book "Natural Treatments for Lyme Coinfections: Anaplasma, Babesia, and Ehrlichia".
Probably everyone who has chronic Lyme disease has experienced fatigue at one point or another -- sometimes too often -- but some fatigue, especially extreme fatigue, can be caused by babesia. When babesia infects a red blood cell, it feeds, reproduces, and then destroys it. Red blood cells are important for carrying oxygen to different parts of the body, and if red blood cell levels are low because babesia is destroying them, oxygen levels will deplete, and fatigue can become present.
Headaches, Migraines, and Other Head and Neck Symptoms
Dr. Wayne Anderson, N.D. says that when a person is experiencing head and neck symptoms, babesia should seriously be considered. While most everyone knows what a general headache, and unfortunately a migraine, feel like, other bizarre head symptoms such as feelings of discomfort, weird sensations, and even eye involvement can be indicative of a babesia infection.
Muscle and Joint Pain
Yes, one of the classic symptoms indicative of Lyme disease can also be caused by a babesia infection. This symptom doesn't really help in identifying babesia, but if you've treated Lyme, yet still experience muscle and joint pain with other symptoms on this page, consider a babesia presence. Lyme, as well as babesia, cause excessive inflammation in the body, with pain being a possible result. Reducing inflammation (i.e., cytokines) specifically increased by the presence of babesia, can help in reducing pain, as well as other inflammatory symptoms caused by the protozoa.
Depression and/or Anxiety
It's hard to imagine any human being enduring the plight of a chronic illness such as Lyme without experiencing mental symptoms, whether it be from one's understanding of their circumstances, a physical change within the brain, or both. Depression and anxiety, specifically anxiety, are hallmark symptoms of babesia, and are just as real and debilitating as physical symptoms. Even if you can rationalize to yourself that you're in no immediate danger, or have nothing to truly be depressed about, the powerful presence of these symptoms can be enough to convince you there is something to be depressed or anxious about, when there absolutely really isn't.
Other Babesia Symptoms
While the symptoms mentioned above can help in identifying the possible causes of symptoms and achieving a diagnosis, babesia can cause other symptoms, such as, but aren't limited to, nausea, brain fog (cognitive dysfunction), severe insomnia, fever, spontaneous bruising, and shaking chills.
In more extreme cases, babeisa can cause serious and life-threatening conditions such as, but aren't limited to, anemia, loss of vision, hypotension, low white blood cell count (neutrophils and leukocytes), liver and spleen damage, ruptured blood cells, disseminated intravascular coagulation (blood clots), and noncardiogenic pulmonary edema.
Treating babesia will surely help to reduce and eliminate symptoms it causes, but to help deal with babesia symptoms during treatment, and to prevent further damage from happening, Stephen Buhner outlines an entire section in his book, "Natural Treatments for Lyme Coinfections: Anaplasma, Babesia, and Ehrlichia" with herbs and supplements that can useful for protecting the areas of the body babesia can target and bother, as well as to reduce and eliminate the symptoms it causes. You can also find useful information for babesia on Stephen's website buhnerhealinglyme.com.
- DiscoveryTV. "Babesiosis - Monsters Inside Me Ep7." YouTube. N.p., 08 May 2012. Web. 30 July 2016.
- Anderson, Dr. Wayne, ND. "Babesia Like Organisms (BabLO): Consideration, Signs and Symptoms." Gordon Medical Associates. N.p., 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 30 July 2016.
- Schaller, Dr. James, MD. "Advanced 2015 Babesia Care: Profound Testing Defects and Preventing Disability and Death." Public Health Alert. N.p., 17 May 2015. Web. 30 July 2016.
- Buhner, Stephen Harrod. "Babesia: An Overview." Natural Treatments for Lyme Coinfections: Anaplasma, Babesia, and Ehrlichia. Rochester: Healing Arts, 2015. 46-47. Print.
- "Protozoa." Microbe World. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2016. <http://www.microbeworld.org/types-of-microbes/protista/protozoa>.
- Goodman, Brenda. "One Tick Bite Can Equal Two Infections." Consumer HealthDay. N.p., 3 July 2014. Web. 30 July 2016.
- Mandal, Dr. Ananya, MD. "Function of the Spleen." News Medical. N.p., 17 Nov. 2009. Web. 30 July 2016.
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