Lyme Disease Can Tick Off Your Heart

BOSTON -- When the weather is warm, working outdoors or walking in the woods may net you a tiny, blood-sucking hitchhiker -- a tick that could carry Lyme disease. And the spiral-shaped bacteria that cause Lyme disease sometimes head for the heart, where they trigger problems that often masquerade as new or worsening heart disease. The August issue of the Harvard Heart Letter tells you how to spot trouble and prevent contact with ticks.

Lyme carditis is the heart infection caused by Lyme disease. The bacteria that cause Lyme carditis disrupt the heart's pattern of electrical activity, delaying or blocking electrical signals that travel between the upper and lower chambers of the heart. This infection affects only 1 in 10 people who get Lyme disease, but its symptoms are often mistaken for other cardiac problems and can result in misdiagnosis.

The Harvard Heart Letter tells you what symptoms to look out for and what Lyme carditis treatment options are available:


* Dizziness or fainting

* Shortness of breath

* Heart palpitations

* Fatigue

* Trouble breathing when lying down or sleeping

* A throbbing sensation in the neck

Source: The Harvard Heart Letter (


* Three to four weeks of the oral antibiotic doxycycline will usually

clear up mild cases of Lyme carditis.

* Intravenous antibiotics may be needed for more serious problems such as

heart block.

* A small percentage of patients require temporary or permanent pacemakers

to stabilize their heart's electrical activity.

Source: The Harvard Heart Letter (

The Harvard Heart Letter also offers tips to help avoid ticks and Lyme carditis:

* If you're going into tick territory, wear bright-colored clothes that

make it easier to spot dark-colored ticks.

* Make barriers by tucking your socks into your pants and wearing a

long-sleeved shirt.

* Use an insect repellent that contains DEET on your skin and clothes.

* Before you go to bed, check yourself for ticks -- if you find one, use

tweezers to gently but firmly pull it off.

Source: Harvard Medical School