What The Health?! Can Lyme disease really cause you to lose your voice?

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Shania Twain has opened up about her experience with Lyme disease and how it stole her voice.

The singer behind hits like “Man! Feel Like a Woman!” and “You’re Still the One” told Extra she was bitten by a tick in Norfolk, Va. in 2003 and contracted the disease.

She found herself facing dysphonia, an imbalance in the coordination of the muscles and breathing patterns needed to create voice.

“I had to have an operation that was very intense and it’s an open-throat operation, very different from a vocal cord operation,” Twain said. “I had to have two of them, so that was really, really, really tough, and I survived that, meaning emotionally I survived, and am just ready to keep going.”

“When you’re a singer and it’s your voice, it is just a terrible, terrible feeling,” she added. “It was a great, great loss, so I had to come to terms with losing the voice that I had and rediscovering my new one.”

Lyme disease is acquired from a bite by a black-legged tick infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium. Ticks can attach to any part of the body, but are often found in hard-to-see areas such as the groin, armpits, and scalp.

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Dysphonia is just one way that Lyme disease can manifest. Untreated, the condition can cause a wide range of symptoms.

Early signs—three to 30 days after a bite—include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some people get what’s called an “erythema migrans” (EM) rash, which appears, on average, seven days after a bite and expands gradually over a period of days reaching up to 12 inches or more (30 cm) across. It’s rarely painful or itchy but can feel warm to the touch; sometimes it looks like a target or bullseye.” A rash related to Lyme disease, however, can have other appearances, if it shows up at all.

Later symptoms, which can appear days or months after a bite, include severe headaches and neck stiffness; other EM rashes on other parts of the body; arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints; loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face, called facial palsy; and intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones.

Still other signs are heart palpitations or an irregular heart beat (Lyme carditis), dizziness, shortness of breath, nerve pain, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, and short-term memory problems.

Because it can have so many effects, the disease often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, says Rebecca Risk, a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and founder of Calgary’s Ananta Health.

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“Lyme disease is a multisystemic disease, so it will go anywhere, and it often can affect somewhere that’s’ weak,” Risk says. “One myth is you have to have a known tick bite and a lot of people don’t notice ticks. They can’t be the side of a poppy seed. You don’t have to know of a bite; most people don’t.

“Another myth is that people will have a target or bullseye rash,” she says. “Only about 10 per cent of people get that rash. Some people will get a sudden illness with chills or fever. It’s important to understand it’s not straightforward.”

Risk has first-hand experience with the illness. She was 29 when she was first diagnosed—after experiencing a myriad of symptoms for 14 years. She says she had 120 symptoms in total, notably pain and a movement disorder where she had no control over her muscles.

Getting a diagnosis is difficult, she says, because, there’s no simple blood test for the disease. According to the CDC, the accuracy of the test depends upon the stage of disease. Some people choose to have various tests for Lyme done outside of Canada, such as Germany or the United States, Risk says.

Oftentimes, the disease is treated with antibiotics. Risk’s health improved over three years of being treated with antimicrobial herbs.

According to the CDC, people who have been treated with antibiotics for Lyme disease can still have pain, fatigue, or difficulty thinking more than six months later, due to a condition called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS).

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This could happen if Borrelia burgdorferi triggers an auto-immune response after the infection itself is gone.

Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) set “ICD codes” (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems) for Lyme Disease. According to Risk, this means that there are human rights violations in cases where the disease is denied by health-care professionals.

“Someone could come in and they can’t walk or they’re having seizures, and they’re told it’s anxiety and it’s obviously not,” Risk says.

Tick exposure can occur year-round, but ticks are most active from April to September.

Ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas, or even on animals. Spending time outside walking your dog, camping, gardening, or hunting could bring you in close contact with ticks.

The CDC reports that many people get ticks in their own yard or neighborhood.

It recommends checking for ticks after being outdoors on your body and clothes, walking in the centre of trails, and avoiding wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.

As for Twain, she’s embracing her new voice as she prepares for her Las Vegas residency, “Let’s Go!,” that starts in December.

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