Lyme Disease Can Be Fatal – Beware of Lyme Heart Attacks!

Lyme Disease Can Be Fatal – Beware of Lyme Heart Attacks!


We know that Lyme disease is a stealth pathogen, and we know that it can infect the heart and cause heart carditis. But for some this occurs unknowingly and can cause death and/or heart disease.

The problem was briefly thrust into the spotlight a couple of years ago when three people died suddenly of Lyme carditis in less than twelve months. Based on cases submitted to the CDC, only 1.1% of patients had carditis, however the real number must be substantially higher given the fact that most cases don’t get diagnosed as Lyme or reported, and other research reports 4 – 10% of Lyme carditis.

LLMD Daniel Cameron says in his blog, “Although rare, sudden cardiac death caused by Lyme disease might be an under-recognized entity,” according to researchers who describe their findings from an autopsy study on 5 case patients who died from sudden cardiac death and were found post mortem to have Lyme carditis. The cases are discussed in an article entitled Cardiac Tropism of Borrelia burgdorferi: An Autopsy Study of Sudden Cardiac Death Associated with Lyme Carditis, published in The American Journal of Pathology.

He goes on to say:

Fatal Lyme carditis is rarely identified. In reviewing five post mortem cases, Muehlenbach and colleagues found that Lyme disease was not suspected for one patient who complained of episodic shortness of breath, while the second patient tested negative for Lyme disease. Two other patients did not seek medical care. Details regarding the fifth patient were not released.

Ultimately, two case patients were diagnosed during unexplained-death investigations at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Lyme disease was suspected in two of the other cases by cardiac pathology at a tissue bank transplant service. Muehlenbachs and colleagues reassure the readers that cardiac tissue was not transplanted.

Spirochetes were present in the heart on all 5 cases. When using immunohistochemistry (IHC), spirochetes were found “within the myocardial interstitial infiltrates, in the subendocardium, and occasionally in pericardial tissue in association with lymphohistiocytic infiltrates.” Muehlenbachs adds, “Rare spirochetes were seen in the leptomeninges of two cases by immunohistochemistry.”

All 5 cases lived in Lyme-endemic areas. Patients resided in counties with a high or moderate incidence of Lyme disease including, New York, New Hampshire (with recent travel to Connecticut), Massachusetts and Indiana.

All 5 cases reportedly engaged in outdoor activities. “Two patients had known exposure to ticks, and one patient reported a recent bite.”

None of the 5 cases met the CDC surveillance case definition for Lyme carditis. This definition includes: recurrent, brief attacks (weeks or months) of objective joint swelling in one or several joints; lymphocytic meningitis; cranial neuritis; radiculoneuropathy; encephalomyelitis; acute onset of high-grade (2nd-degree or 3rd-degree) atrioventricular conduction defects, and myocarditis.

Only 1 of the 5 cases underwent serologic screening for Lyme disease and the results were negative.

All 5 cases were symptomatic prior to their death. “A prodrome was reported for each of the patients that included the following: non-specific viral-like illness, malaise, shortness of breath, and anxiety,” according to Muehlenbachs. “One of these patients also had joint and muscle pain, and the other two patients had joint pain for an unknown duration.”

“No dermatologic lesion was documented or reported for any of the patients, although one patient was evaluated in an emergency department 1 month before death for an arm lesion diagnosed as a possible spider bite from which methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus was isolated in culture.”

All 5 cases were seropositive post mortem according to the CDC’s two-tier criteria. “One sample met both IgM and IgG Western Blot (WB) criteria, with two of the three IgM bands and 6 of the 10 IgG bands reactive. The four remaining samples were positive by IgM WB criteria only, although three were nearly IgG positive with 4 of the 10 bands reactive,” states Muehlenbachs.

Underlying cardiac disease may have played a role in 3 of the 5 cases of sudden cardiac deaths associated with Lyme disease, Muehlenbachs points out, since there was significant underlying heart disease present in two patients, and an additional patient had moderate atherosclerosis, discovered at autopsy.

Physiological cardiac stress was considered a potential factor in 2 of the 5 cases. “In the other two patients, who were otherwise healthy, a degree of physiological cardiac stress likely was present: the woman had given birth 6 months previously and the man was a physically active outdoor enthusiast,” according to Muehlenbachs.

These pathologic findings provide insight into the possible cause behind sudden cardiac deaths associated with Lyme disease. “The findings support the proposed disease mechanism of spirochete cardiac tropism during early disease dissemination, the infiltration of cardiac tissue by inflammatory cells, and involvement of the conduction system, which likely mediates sudden cardiac death.” [1]

“Early diagnosis and prompt treatment for Lyme carditis can be life-saving,” according to Muehlenbachs. “Health care professionals should evaluate all patients with suspected Lyme disease for cardiac signs and symptoms, and obtain an electrocardiogram promptly if carditis is suspected.” Furthermore, “diagnosis is based on clinical suspicion and serologic testing, with the caveat that serology testing may be falsely negative in a patient with recent illness onset.” [1]

Fishe and colleagues describe how early diagnosis and treatment helped save the life of a 15-year-old African-American girl with Lyme carditis. [2] The patient was hospitalized after a 3-day history of intermittent retrosternal and epigastric pain. After treatment was initiated, she developed a heart block. Tests for Lyme disease were positive and she was diagnosed with Lyme disease-associated myocarditis.

The adolescent was empirically started on doxycycline and was concurrently treated with milrinone infusion for afterload reduction and intravenous furosemide for pulmonary edema. Her EKG changed to first-degree heart block by day 2 and resolved completely on hospital day 3.

She recovered and was discharged home on hospital day 7 on oral furosemide, enalapril, and doxycycline, according to Fishe and colleagues.

However, another adolescent was not so fortunate. He died suddenly from undiagnosed Lyme carditis, following complaints of flu-like symptoms. The case is discussed in another All Things Lyme blog, Relying on a Negative Lyme Disease Test Can Prove Deadly.

“In patients with Lyme disease who complain of cardiopulmonary symptoms, clinicians should have a low threshold for obtaining an EKG to evaluate for Lyme carditis,” Fishe points out. Furthermore, clinicians should take note that in “children and adolescents, respiratory and gastrointestinal complaints, with or without chest pain, are the most frequent presenting symptoms.”

The CDC says that Lyme carditis occurs when Lyme disease bacteria enter the tissues of the heart. This can interfere with the normal movement of electrical signals from the heart’s upper to lower chambers, a process that coordinates the beating of the heart. The result is something physicians call “heart block,” which can be mild, moderate, or severe. Heart block from Lyme carditis can progress rapidly.

Patients may experience light-headedness, fainting, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or chest pain. Patients with Lyme carditis usually have other symptoms such as fever and body aches, and they may have more specific symptoms of Lyme disease, such as the erythema migrans rash.

Judy Stone, contributing journalist for Forbes, wrote in her article about the subject last year (2015) “Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections are skyrocketing. In western Pennsylvania, where I work, Lyme increased 25% just between 2013 and 2014, with Butler County having 412 cases and Allegheny County chalking up a record 822 cases last year. And where I vacation, in Maine, the rate of Lyme in 2014 was 240 cases per 100,000, which is more than 20 times the national average, and twice the rate of Butler.”

The CDC estimates there are ~329,000 cases of Lyme disease each year, tenfold higher than previously thought. Vermont and New Hampshire have the highest incidence, although Maine recently discovered that 50% of all ticks carry Lyme disease.

Lyme is a multisystem disorder that can attack any or every organ in the human body, causing unique infections from organ to organ. Unfortunately, absolute proof would require a biopsy of the infected tissue and the heart can only be studied after death.

If you ever experience the symptoms of a heart attack, go immediately to the nearest hospital emergency room. Never take chances with heart disease.

A Heart Attack may cause some or all of these symptoms:  

  • Pain, pressure, fullness, discomfort or squeezing in the center of the chest
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Stabbing chest pain
  • Radiating pain to shoulder(s), neck, back, arm(s) or jaw
  • Pounding heartbeats (palpitations) or feeling extra heartbeats
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Nausea, vomiting or severe indigestion
  • Sweating for no apparent reason
  • Dizziness with weakness
  • Sudden extreme fatigue
  • Panic with feeling of impending doom

The pain is quite distinct.

One person has described it as: “a heavy, strangulating, suffocating experience-far more intense than anything like indigestion, chest wall injuries, pleurisy or spasms of the esophagus that you are familiar with.

The pain may seem to start under the breastbone, on the left side of the chest, and sometimes radiates out to other places: throat, neck, jaw, left shoulder and arm and, occasionally, on to the right side.

Medscape writes:

“Health care providers should consider Lyme disease as a cause of cardiac symptoms in patients who live in or have visited a high-incidence Lyme disease region, especially during summer and fall months and regardless of whether the patient reports erythema migrans. Additionally, health care providers should investigate the potential for cardiac involvement in patients who have other signs or symptoms of Lyme disease, particularly if they report chest pain, palpitations, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or syncope.”


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20 Responses to Lyme Disease Can Be Fatal – Beware of Lyme Heart Attacks!

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  3. Jill Hanson says:

    This is the first acknowledgement of heart attacks caused by Lyme I have found. I also have myocarditis and am, frankly, very nervous as I am having many of the early symptoms of chest pains, racing heart, jaw pain even. I do not have insurance and have already had numerous tests done and all they said was that a section of my heart is inflamed, and that I likely just have anxiety. A year later, on a natural protocol, I am down to 3 co-infections from 5, but am still having the scary heart problems. Any further information about how to proceed would be so very helpful. I have 3 young children and don’t want to live in fear of heart attack. Thank you kindly for all your work for this cause.

    • Jenna Smith says:

      Hi Jill-

      I am so empathetic although my six children are grown, I now have 4 grandchildren…and although heart “experts” have insisted my heart is OK (other than some “perplexing” test results that could not be explained) – I have had some real heart attacks where my husband thought I was dying and several trips to ER but I stopped going because I don’t have typical heart disease and the hospitals do not test for Lyme as a cause of the symptoms.

      Congratulations on eliminating some co-infections, however, in my experience, the best thing you can do is find a very experienced Lyme MD to oversee your medications, nutrients to boost your immune system (which is a long process) and eliminate biofilms and parasites – 2 of the major hiding places (and breeding colonies) for Lyme. I prefer Banderol, Samento and Enula for accomplishing that, but there are many protocols, some work better or not at all depending on numerous conditions. (Check You Tube videos on Biofilms for more info and the Townsend Letter issue with Eva Sapi, PhD.

      I hope to get my books updated and finished soon but I have been really focused on my own recovery in desperation. I will not desert my readers though -feel free to email just please be patient if it takes me awhile to get back to you.


      • Ramona Owens says:

        Hi Jenna. My husband died in September this year from heart attack – heart blockage and he had an enlarged heart. He was bit by a tick in early 1980s and was not diagnosed and treated until 2005 with two week IV antibiotic therapy. After that one treatment

        • Jenna Smith says:

          I am so sorry Ramona! Did you ask for DNA testing on the blockage to determine if there is evidence of Borrelia? The information, if true would be very helpful to others and would most likely save lives!
          Blessings –

  4. Will says:

    I suffer this every minute of everyday nonstop chest pain and pressure, massive heart palpitations. It’s no way to live life so many er trips just to have doctors laugh at me and tell me I’m healthy as could be. Multiple Lyme doctors and no help at all, honestly waiting for an episode that finally kills me, better than the torture that is Lyme.

    • Jenna Seaver says:

      Hi Will –

      I have felt this way too, and know many others who have suffered the same as you and I…multiple trips to ER to be told we are healthy when WE ARE NOT. There are some cardiologists who take Borrelia seriously – the key is to find one.

      Keep treating the disease and you can recover. Living with good health is still possible – please don’t give up!



      • JIll Norair says:

        I feel exactly the same way. I had two “heart attacks” October and November, had a cardiac cat 2 weeks ago. vessels spasming and goes from size of a finger to size of a thread. Believe it or not the Cardiac Drs here in FL the Cardiac and Vascular institute in Gainesville Fl actually agree and think it is from Lyme disease. Still trying to find a dr that can help me more.
        good luck

        • Jenna Seaver says:

          So sorry to hear! Antibiotics should help (as it did with Dr. Phillip’s dad) – Dr. Kaye in Gainesville is the doctor I got to now…maybe she can help you.

          Be well!

  5. Mary Austin says:

    Hello my is mary i suffer from Lyme Disease i have pain on my left side in my breast it is very scary i have pain all over my body i also have attacks of real bad pain in my ankles wrists hands knees i just had a attack that put me in the bed with servere pain the next morning my spine was sore i always have pain all over my body my feet hurt a lot feels restless my doctor acts like i am alright what should i do?

    • Jenna Seaver says:

      Hi Mary – Find a Lyme-literate doctor near you as soon as possible. This process can be frustrating as many doctors have not been trained properly to deal with Lyme. The diagnosis can be very difficult if you have had the disease for a long time. The sooner you catch it the better, and from experience I will tell you that antibiotics work best (and fastest) however you will need extra supplements to support immune system AND other treatment protocols to pulse and hit different areas. Also serrapeptase or samento&banderol are required to break down biofilms (which protect the bacteria from antibiotics), also, a parasite treatment is necessary as the spirochetes will drill into anything to hide from treatment. Another treatment that is effective and inexpensive is salt & vitamin C or even better but slightly more expensive is Himalayan salt and applepoly (see my website homepage for more info.)

      Best wishes,


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  8. Susi Lee says:

    I have no doubt that lyme infection can cause heart disease. I have heard about people with gum disease get heart diseases too because the infection in the gum can enter blood stream and travel to the heart. I have done years of research on this and learned that if the infection isn’t cleared within a very short time the pathogen can swim everywhere and hide in the body and cause destruction wherever it goes, and at the point, antibiotic becomes almost useless. The root cause is the infection so we must target the biofilm (with something like Interfase Plus) and use a range of supplement to help the body heals. I know the supplements work when I sleep well (lyme often comes with insomnia)

  9. Laura Henze Russell says:

    Excellent piece. Have you seen any research on the synergistic impacts of Lyme and other stresses on the immune system? For example, mercury and heavy metals can weaken the immune system, as can mold exposure, chemical exposures, dental/gum/jaw infections, parasites, viruses, etc. It is not uncommon for people to have health impacts from multiple triggers, all of which need to be addressed to restore healthy functioning. While acute health problems may have a single cause to address, chronic health problems are often multifactorial. Yet medicine works more on the acute model of looking for one cause, and one magic bullet cure.

  10. Cash Johnny says:

    Just lost a friend to this, so sad…the Doctors won’t open their minds to other causes, told the guy, it was a simple deal……in and out….done so many of them….Well….once they got in, they couldn’t believe what they saw…and it was sad to see a so called place like Mt. Sigh(:-( as I call it that …..claim to be the best of the best …scurry to try and save this man…I guess over 10 of them tried to “save” him…….Unfortunately they covered it with some excuse and he was cremated before the REAL TRUTH could be found….. I can bet hundreds of thousands of these have escaped detection….or “hidden”…who want’s the truth that we have a serious Pandemic on our hands….

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