In one of the great ironies of medical science, Lyme Disease symptoms often worsen significantly just before the patient begins to recover. In fact, many patients claim that they’ve never been sicker. This is due to something doctors call the Jalisch-Herxheimer reaction, after the physicians who first recorded it.

With many cases of LD, then, the only way to get better is to get worse first. But the worsening of the symptoms is blessedly temporary, and means that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

The Reaction

The Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction is a relatively rare reaction caused when dying disease organisms, usually spirochetes, release toxins faster than the body can handle them. It’s associated with just a few diseases, including syphilis, Q-fever, LD, leptospirosis, and occasionally typhoid, trichinosis, and a few other ailments.

Also known as “herx,” it results in LD patients when the Borrelia burgdorferi spirochetes that cause the disease begin to succumb to the antibiotics used to treat it. Essentially, the bacteria burst and dump their contents into the body tissues and bloodstream.

This is bad enough, but some of the immune system modulators that the body releases to detoxify the mess can also cause fevers, chills, and low blood pressure. All in all, until natural defenses can cleanup that foreign cellular material, the patient feels terrible. Some physicians call this a “healing crisis.”

The Symptoms

The herx reaction is basically an intensification of existing symptoms. When it comes on, victims may experience any or all of the following symptoms:

Thinking about Lyme disease symptoms can give you a headache

Many Lyme disease symptoms include headaches, stiff neck and joint pain

  • A brief blood pressure spike, followed by a rapid drop
  • Escalation of existing rashes
  • Hives
  • Sleepiness
  • Fatigue
  • Sluggishness
  • Fever and chills
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Sinusitis
  • Brain fog (a.k.a. “Lyme fog”)
  • Digestive problems
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Swollen glands
  • Itching

In very rare cases, life-threatening anaphylactic shock and seizures may occur during a herx reaction.

How Long Does It Last?

LD-related herx reactions usually last for several days, though a herx can pass in as little as one day or last as long as two weeks. The longer cases are thankfully rare, though of course to the person suffering the reaction, even a day or two can seem to last forever.

Please note that not everyone treated for LD suffers a herx reaction. But if you do have one, be sure to get plenty of rest, take medications for the pain, and drink lots of water. It’s also a good idea to take hot baths and do moderate amounts of walking. Keep a close eye out for severe reactions, including low blood pressure.

Some observers also recommend probiotic diets, antioxidant support, herbal teas, massage therapy, and listening to relaxing music, which certainly can’t hurt. Others recommend enemas and colonic therapy, and if you don’t mind scaling up the discomfort, you can try those too.

The Bottom Line

Lyme is a hard disease to kill, and it will strike back hard before it gives up. So if you’re undergoing treatment for LD and your Lyme Disease symptoms suddenly seem to get worse, don’t despair — you just might be having a herx reaction, which means you’re getting better!