What Is The Herxheimer Reaction
I’m not sure about you but for me, the name alone sounds a bit scary…
If you have Lyme disease, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the Herxheimer Reaction. Some people have even given it a nickname, it’s often called ‘a herx’ or ‘herxing’. But don’t worry, I’m here to do my best to help you understand this weird and sometimes scary side effect that you might encounter during your journey in Surviving Lyme Disease.
Let’s break it down and help you see that with a bit of preparation and understanding – we can tackle this just like we do everything else. After all, if there’s one thing all Lyme patients have in common it’s incredible strength.
The Guts & Bolts Of The Herxheimer Reaction
The name comes from a couple guys who published their studies of the reaction itself. Their names being Adolf Jarisch and Karl Herxheimer.
It’s not something only Lyme patients deal with but cancer patients too! Like many diseases some of the most frustrating struggles in overcoming them is the side effects. Or in a lot of cases the treatments themselves…
For cancer patients chemotherapy is incredibly harsh causing the body to sometimes ‘herx’. For Lyme disease patients, we go through similar struggles when trying to rid our bodies of disease. Nothing is easy in our world, is it?
What’s interesting to know is not everyone will experience a Herxheimer Reaction during treatment.
In my opinion, it really depends on the level of infection you’re going through and even the type of treatment you’ve elected to use. For me it was much more exhaustive in the beginning phases of treatment, and while I still noticed them later on (especially during slight adjustments to my treatment regiments), they really didn’t bother me so much towards the end (something to look forward to – small I know but we’ll take it).
The most important thing I hope to give you in trying to understand the Herxheimer Reaction, is that if you’re not expecting it, a herx can be quite shocking. Even to the point of inhibiting your progress. I’ve even heard of people stopping treatment outright due to feeling like they were going backwards and fearing they might be getting even worse. That’s the last thing we want to do!
The Herxheimer Reaction is typically in direct response to antibiotics or other treatments targeting Lyme Disease. As mentioned it can happen to those with other illnesses as well, one of them being quite similar to Lyme in that it is also a spirochete – syphillis.
Another common illness that tends to occur in Lyme patients, either as a direct side effect, or coinfection is Candida (a systemic yeast infection). All of which adds to the level of intensity and type of reaction you might have.
The Herxheimer Reaction is essentially the bodies way of attempting to rid itself of toxins quicker than it is really capable of. When you begin treatment for the first time, the accumulation of Lyme bacterium is pretty intense. The dying bacteria release large quantities of toxins into your blood stream as well as the tissues in your body.
You can even notice ‘herx’ reactions during later stages of treatment as well, though depending on the amount of die off occurring it might be less severe, which is a bit better than the full blown nuclear war that’s been happening in your body up to this point at least.
The scientific way of putting things – this sudden and intense reaction is the bodies exaggerated inflammatory response to an overload of toxins in the blood stream.
Since Lyme disease spirochetes can also drill themselves right into your white blood cells – when the Lyme spirochete dies so does the white blood cell. After the host cell has been eliminated, it too has now become just another form of toxin in the blood stream, making the Herxheimer effects even worse.
What Does A Herx Reaction Really Feel Like?
With the immune system on red alert, you start to feel the inflammatory response more and more, which is part of the bodies method in dealing with toxins. Unfortunately this means your symptoms can actually increase, quite often in the very area where the most bacteria is being killed off.
For me, I always felt the most pain in my hips, knees and ankle joints, so my Herxheimer Reactions were much more exaggerated below the waist.
For some Lyme disease patients with more brain related infections, they typically notice an increase in neurological symptoms.
The sicker you are and the more pervasive your infection, the more severe herxes tend to be.
Unfortunately, because of the way a ‘herx’ reaction can feel, it’s actually sometimes hard to recognize.
If you notice a rise in your symptoms be sure to consider some of the other possibilities. Maybe you’ve been exposed to harsh chemicals, or have allergies kicking in? It could also be medication side effects not directly related to the treating of Lyme. Sometimes other trivial things like a sharp temperature change can even influence the bodies symptoms to Lyme.
The truth is, ‘herxes’ don’t always happen right away. They can occur hours, days or even a couple weeks after treatment or die offs of Lyme pathogens. Whenever I started taking a new medication, I liked to pay extra careful attention to my symptoms. I’m not much of a detail oriented guy myself but my wife was pretty good about keeping a Lyme journal if I remember correctly.
She would keep a journal in order to track her symptoms when they seemed to be at their worst, trying to discover what may have caused them and to sort out the typical herx reactions from the other Lyme symptoms.
Lastly, here are some of the more common symptoms reported to those suffering from Herxheimer Reactions:
- Increased fatigue, joint or muscle pain.
- Skin rashes, photosensitivity, irritability, paresthesia.
- Dizziness, sleep disturbances, asthenia, muscle cramps, night sweats.
- Hypertension, hypotension, headaches (especially migraines) and swollen glands.
- Heavy perspiration, metallic taste in mouth, chills.
- Nausea, bloating, constipation or diarrhea.
- Low grade fever, heart palpitations, tachycardia, facial palsy.
- Tinnitus, mental confusion, uncoordinated movement, pruritus, bone pain.
- Flu-like syndrome, conjunctivitis and throat swelling.
Enough with all the scary stuff, let’s talk about the ways to deal with Herxheimer Reactions. It’s not all bad, you can find some relief during the process…
How To Deal With A Bad Herxheimer Reaction
Since Herxheimer Reactions are unpredictable and sometimes a necessary part of treating Lyme disease, I like to look at the ways we can manage them more than how we can avoid them.
Some people might not ever experience a herx, and for those lucky few I think that’s awesome. For the rest of us it’s just unavoidable. Below are some very simple steps that you can take in order to help you manage your herxes!
Since going through treatment alone is quite time consuming and stressful, ‘herx’ reactions only add to the complexity. One thing to consider is making sure you’re taking care of your body while you go through the process. This means getting lots of rest. Eat healthy meals and drink plenty of water, I know this may seem obvious, but all to often I think we forget to allow ourselves this common courtesy.
You are after all sick, and like with any illness your immune system is taxed beyond normal measure and you really need to start taking it seriously if you plan to get better.
Try to stay positive, because even though herx reactions can become quite unbearable, it does mean you’re doing something right! Your medication is working and your body is flushing toxins at a rapid rate. I know it’s tough but it won’t last forever and you will literally be that much closer to ridding your system of bad biological pathogens.
It’s also something to note that if you have a doctor helping you with your treatment, I would expect them to be giving you only medications and dosages that you can handle. This will mitigate the severity of your herxes, by not killing everything inside of you at once.
Detoxing Is The Real Deal
The key to everything when going through a bad ‘herx’, is detoxing. Since the body is literally doing everything it can to expunge all the toxins but unable to really keep up – you can literally help it along with a few simple tricks. There are medications that your doctor may sometimes prescribe, but ultimately it’s up to you to do the dirty work here.
Drinking water and staying hydrated is one of the number one rules when trying to detox. Adding a bit of lemon juice to your water can also help things along nicely. The liver is sometimes unable to process everything as quickly as you might want it to and drinking will give you the boost you need.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links.
Other options: one really awesome technique to use is getting a deep tissue massage. Feeling pressure on your joints and muscles can sometimes be too painful during this time so it’s not for everyone. Personally if you can handle it, I think it’s the perfect excuse to get a little sympathy favor from your significant other.
In short the deep tissue massage can help break down the toxins that may solidify inside your muscles. You might have noticed those ‘knots’ forming in your back for weeks and now you know why!
Exercise is something I found pretty hard to come by during my stint with Lyme disease, but if you can wing it I think it’s one of the best ways to promote sweating, which can also start flushing your system of toxins.
Always Consider Your Situation
Like anything, ‘herx’ reactions will be different for everyone. Never assume anything and always consult your doctor if you feel your situation may require medical treatment.
While most people are able to push through Herxheimer Reactions, if you feel unable to handle the pain, get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible to be on the safe side. You may need to lessen your medication dosage, or try something different altogether.
Most of all, just remember that a ‘herx’ reaction means you are doing something right and try to focus on the positive when you’re feeling at your worst. I believe in you and I know you can do it, just keep at it and you will feel so much better once your on the other side.
Good luck with your next herx!