Meghan Bradshaw went to numerous doctors after she began passing out and complaining of joint discomfort. The doctors first thought she was anaemic or suffering from a vitamin D deficit. Her symptoms became “debilitating” in her early 20s, at which point she began an intense quest for answers. Her misdiagnosis lasted for years before she finally got the answer she was looking for: she had Lyme disease, which has caused arthritis and necessitated 16 operations on her joints before she turned 30.
The Charlotte, North Carolina, native, age 29, told TODAY that while her tale was severe, it highlighted a lot of the things that other people encounter, such as delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis and a general unawareness of the hazards of ticks.
Strange Symptoms With No Easy Diagnosis
Bradshaw says that while she experienced some of the symptoms while in high school, the start was most noticeable during her time at college. Initial symptoms were vague and included dizziness and fatigue; later, she developed joint pain that made it difficult for her to move around and take care of herself.
To put it simply, I sought out the help of specialists. My mother had a history of inflammatory bowel disease, so my family worried that I would have it. Lupus, MS, and RA were among the diagnoses we were considering,” Bradshaw explained. “Seriously at that time, everything in the autoimmune world had come up inconclusive, including all of the numerous tests.” Even though she didn’t fully fit the requirements, a specialist finally diagnosed her with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 23.
Because I lacked the rheumatoid factor, I did not get rheumatoid arthritis. ‘This is the closest thing that we can give you, so we’re just going to treat you,'” Bradshaw remembers the physicians saying. Then, a diagnosis was something for which I was desperate, so you can imagine my elation at finally receiving one.
When the agony first started, she felt like it was everywhere. Mom did things like show her how to brush her teeth and get dressed. She altered her diet and gave up alcohol in addition to beginning a regimen of immunosuppressant medicines such as steroids and biologics.
To improve himself, Bradshaw had been doing “everything, all the proper things” to decrease his inflammation. “There was this aching all across my body, and no one could pinpoint its origin.”
She was able to recover some function after receiving treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, but eventually, she required joint replacement and reconstruction. She required a wheelchair and other aids for mobility after undergoing total shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle replacement surgery, as well as joint reconstruction in both hands.
The majority of her legs and feet have been replaced, she claimed. Because the arthritis was so acute, doctors had to fuse my fingers.
Her hands were permanently clenched due to arthritis in her palms and fingers, but after surgery, her hands were relocated into “a curved position and fastened with a metal rod.” She has lost the ability to bend her hands, but still has “approximately 70% of her function.”
In addition, Bradshaw was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a disorder of the connective tissue. But that didn’t explain why, at such a young age, she needed so many reconstructive and replacement surgery. She had been experiencing symptoms of Lyme arthritis for three years before finally receiving a diagnosis of Lyme disease.
“It was a big relief since now we know what’s causing all this,” she said. “At the same time,” she continued, “it was incredibly distressing because the misdiagnoses that I had been given and the delay in diagnosis that I had experienced caused extra issues.”
What is Lyme arthritis?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria are transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected tick, which results in the development of Lyme disease. Infected individuals develop high body temperature, headache, extreme fatigue, and a bullseye rash. Antibiotics can be effective in treating the infection if caught early enough. Heart, nervous system, and joint issues can result, yet many people are unaware they have them.
There could be as many as 476,000 annual cases of Lyme disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although it has decreased in prevalence, Lyme arthritis is still detectable.
OrthoCarolina hand expert Dr Glenn Gaston told TODAY that when Lyme disease does impact the joints, it often affects only one joint, typically the knee. Most people don’t develop arthritis if they receive treatment. However, even if antibiotics are administered promptly, 10% of patients will still develop arthritis.
The risk of acquiring arthritis from Lyme disease increases if the condition is left untreated. Gaston says the knee is generally the first joint affected by Lyme arthritis.
According to Gaston, “around 60% will end up with some arthritis.”
“Based on our past 30 years of research, we no longer think of Alzheimer’s as primarily a disease of the brain. Rather, we believe that Alzheimer’s is principally a disorder of the immune system within the brain.” https://t.co/O56fuk6Srk
— LymeDisease.org (@Lymenews) September 21, 2022
Through surgery conducted by Gaston, Bradshaw’s hand function has improved.
He recalled, “When I first met Meghan, she could not hold anything.” She was unable to move her fingers toward her face. They had to wheel her in. In many ways, her father was her primary caregiver.
Gaston observes that Bradshaw’s predicament is unusual in its intensity.
It’s over for her. Looking at her medical history, she has had both hips, both knees, and both shoulders replaced,” he stated. Her Lyme disease is the worst I’ve ever seen. The case of her illness is unlike any I’ve encountered in a textbook or journal article.
Joint pain can usually be alleviated with medicine.
The likelihood of a Lyme disease patient progressing to Meghan’s state is “very unlikely,” Gaston added.
According to Gaston, it is still crucial to educate people about Lyme disease. People should check themselves for ticks after being outside, especially in the Northeast. They should see a doctor immediately if they experience any unusual symptoms. If someone has it, doctors can check their blood to see if they have it. Fewer consequences can be expected if treatment begins early.
As Gaston put it, “the chances of getting arthritis are greatly reduced” if the condition is diagnosed and treated early.
Recently, Bradshaw was able to leave the house without the use of a wheelchair for the first time in two years, and she resumed walking. But it often isn’t easy. She gets a lot of strange looks and questions from strangers when she uses a wheelchair. On occasion, she takes advantage of social missteps as a teaching opportunity.
Many people are genuinely interested in learning more about tick-borne diseases, impairments, and joint replacements, and she sees this as an opportunity to do so. But it’s exhausting to leave the house every day expecting a question from a stranger who seems to think you owe them an explanation for your health scare.
She also raises awareness of tick-borne infections and has donated five of her joints to a researcher studying the mechanisms by which Lyme disease causes such severe damage. Bradshaw, a public health master’s student, wants to teach kids how to check themselves for ticks so they’ll be more aware of the dangers of Lyme disease as they grow up.
According to Bradshaw, “what they learn in school, they go home and teach their families and their communities.” This is the kind of stuff that should be required for learning for everyone.
While she is aware of the existence of health inequities and the frequent disregard of individuals, she hopes that her experience will inspire others to become their health advocates.
To paraphrase, “I don’t want this to be a sad narrative. This is not the case. Bradshaw emphasised how likely it was that this explanation was correct. I hope this motivates people to take action. If you want to make a difference in the world, you need to find something that matters to you and then do something about it.
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