Kelly Osbourne has a memoir coming out at the end of April and, in it, she opens up about her struggle with a particular form of Lyme disease—and the challenges she faced trying to get a proper diagnosis.
Osbourne, 32, tells Us Weekly that she was bitten by a tick in 2004 when her mom surprised her dad with a reindeer sanctuary in the backyard of their home in England. Her father burned the tick off with a match, but it had already infected her with Lyme disease —she just didn’t know it yet.
Lyme disease can be extremely tricky to diagnose—the symptoms are easy to miss or confuse with something else, and half of people with the disease don’t even remember getting a tick bite. This is particularly problematic because, left untreated, Lyme can progress, resulting in worsening symptoms, pain, and neurological damage. (In some cases, it can even return after treatment, a condition called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS).)
Osbourne writes in her book, There Is No F*cking Secret: Letters From a Badass Bitch , that for the next 10 years after she was bitten, she suffered from “traveling pain,” including a sore throat and stomachaches, and finally a seizure while filming E!’s Fashion Police in 2013. Then, she was diagnosed with epilepsy , a disorder that disturbs nerve cell activity in the brain and causes seizures.
Osbourne says she was put on a rotating series of prescriptions which turned her into a “zombie.” “You know in movies where a mental patient sits in a rocking chair in a cardigan and nightgown and stares at a wall all day? That was me,” she writes.
She had difficulty sleeping, so she was prescribed medication for insomnia. That made her nauseous, so she was given a sedative and anti-depressant, but that gave her acid reflux, so she had to take a daily antacid. One medication made her prone to getting urinary tract infections , so she took antibiotics. Osbourne pointed out the irony of all of the medications that she was on, given that she had battled a painkiller addiction in the past. “I had pills to deal with the anxiety that I was having from taking so many pills,” she says.
She finally hit her breaking point when she got a new prescription that left her “barely able to speak.” “I took my bag of pills and my fiancé drove me to my mum’s house,” she says. “I sat them all out, one by one, until they lined up the length of the counter. ‘I can’t live like this anymore,’ I said. ‘I’m a vegetable.’”
Osbourne says she finally sought help from an alternative medicine practitioner who tested her for Lyme disease. “The results were positive: I had stage III neurological Lyme disease,” she says. “I was relieved to finally know what was going on, but I was also scared s–tless.”
Osbourne underwent stem cell therapy “so my body could fight off and get rid of the disease on its own.” She did it for two weeks, and says she “was experiencing emotions and feelings again…I’d been in a diseased and doctor-approved drug-induced haze for so long that I didn’t know what it was like to be happy or sad or in pain.”
Osbourne says she kept quiet about her Lyme disease because it seems like it’s “trendy.” “Since I know firsthand how awfully debilitating it is, I know who really has it and who is just trying to prolong their 15 minutes,” she says. “I don’t understand how anyone could think that the life you have to live with Lyme disease is glamorous.”
There are three stages of Lyme disease and, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke , neurological complications can happen in the second stage of Lyme disease. The first stage of Lyme disease typically starts anywhere from seven to 30 days after a person is bitten by an infected tick, and may cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, and joint pain. But, if left untreated, Lyme disease can progress to the second stage, which can cause neurological complications such as numbness, pain, weakness, Bell’s palsy (paralysis of the facial muscles), visual disturbances, and meningitis symptoms (fever, stiff neck, and severe headache). The third stage can have the symptoms of the other two stages, as well as joint swelling, enlargement, and pain, Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a board-certified infectious disease physician and an affiliated scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Health Security, tells SELF. A patient in this stage can also have neurological symptoms which would be stage III neurological Lyme disease, which Osbourne had. However, that is rare, Adalja says.
In some cases, the nerves of a person with stage III neurological Lyme disease may not work as well as they should, Adalja says, which can cause pain, numbness, and tingling, as well as spasms and difficulty walking. A patient can progress to stage III when they’re not treated with antibiotics, Richard Watkins, M.D., an associate professor at Northeast Ohio Medical University and an infectious diseases specialist in Akron, Ohio, tells SELF.
Stage III Lyme disease is different from post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS)—a condition that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as lingering symptoms of fatigue, pain, or joint and muscle aches after a person finished treatment for Lyme disease. Research shows that women are more likely than men to develop PTLDS, and as many as one in five people may develop PTLDS after they receive treatment for Lyme disease. (You can read more about PTLDS here , if you’re interested.)
“Regular” Lyme disease is clinically diagnosed with a blood test, but Adalja says that neurological Lyme disease is typically diagnosed with a combination of a blood test and testing of a person’s cerebrospinal fluid, bodily fluid found in the brain and spine.
While Osbourne underwent stem cell therapy for her Lyme disease, experts say that’s not a typical treatment. A person diagnosed with Lyme disease is usually given a 14-day cycle of oral antibiotics, such as doxycycline or amoxicillin, to treat early Lyme disease, Watkins says. However, if their Lyme disease has spread to the joints, the antibiotics are given for one month. Patients with neurological Lyme disease may be given intravenous therapy—usually the antibiotic ceftriaxone—for 28 days, he says. People can recover from stage III Lyme disease, but the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says there’s a risk of developing permanent joint or nervous system damage. Plus, you can get PTLDS from any stage of Lyme that’s been treated.
It’s scary to think that a tick bite could cause so much damage, but Adalja says people shouldn’t panic over it, as many patients can be easily treated with antibiotics. If you suspect that you have Lyme disease, talk to your doctor about your concerns. Lyme disease can be diagnosed with a blood test, although research has shown many women who have the disease may not test positive for it . One study found that only 32 percent of women with Lyme disease test positive, while 50 percent of men do. Experts aren’t sure why, but note that it could be because women produce less of a Lyme-bacteria-fighting antibody called immoglobulin G, which is often used to fight the infection. The big takeaway—don’t wait to seek help as Lyme disease can get worse with time if it’s left untreated.
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