If you have already been diagnosed with Lyme disease and are undergoing treatment, you have probably already heard the term “Herx” or “Herxing.” This stems from the term Herxheimer Reaction which was discovered by dermatologists Adolf Jarisch and Karl Herxheimer while treating Syphilis patients with mercury and antibiotics.
So what is the Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction? It is generally described as a temporary increase of symptoms after beginning antibiotic or antifungal treatments due to the die-off of pathogenic microbes that cause infectious diseases such as spirochetes, bacteria, and Candida yeast.
The good news is, if you are experiencing a Herxheimer Reaction, it means that your treatment is working. It is often referred to as a Healing Crisis for this reason. As awful as it may feel, it is only temporary and it is the beginning of the healing process.
It was once believed that the reaction was caused by the cellular endotoxins themselves being released into the body as microbes die off. Recent studies have shown that it may have more to do with an immune response due to the load of dead material and endotoxins being higher than what the body can keep up with in elimination.
For most people, the onset of this reaction occurs in the first few days to the first few weeks after beginning treatment, and usually subsides thereafter. In some cases, such as in Lyme disease treatment, the reaction can occur in cycles. This happens because the only time the Lyme spirochete can die from antibiotic treatment is during its growth phase which generally occurs in 4-6 week cycles. For those being treated with long term antibiotics due to late stage infection, they may experience cycles of the Herxheimer reaction. Usually the severity lessens each cycle as the spirochete load is reduced.
Some LLMDs use this as a tool to monitor progress of treatment. For this reason alone, it is imperative that ALL Lyme patients follow a strict anti-Candida diet and doctors monitor Candida overgrowth throughout treatment. Given that symptoms are almost identical with Lyme and Candida and both conditions create a Herxheimer reaction while being treated, it is imperative to keep Candida loads at normal levels in order to accurately monitor Lyme treatment and progress. For more information, please see the Candida & Lyme page.
It is also important to discuss the Herxheimer reaction prior to beginning antibiotic therapy, particularly if your general practitioner is the one treating you. If they are unaware of this reaction, they may mistake it as a reaction to the antibiotic and stop treatment prematurely. If symptoms become severe, however, you do need to contact your doctor to ensure the safety. In some cases, you may need to temporarily stop or lessen the dosage, or change the type of medication due to extreme die-off reactions.
Managing die-off reactions is important not only for your comfort but to help your body eliminate toxins as quickly and efficiently as possible. Drink lots of filtered water, as this is the #1 way to help alleviate symptoms. You can also try Epsom Salt baths and other detox methods if you can tolerate it. These can sometimes worsen symptoms further because Lyme spirochetes don’t like heat, but it also helps to pull toxins out through your skin and is quite effective.
Try not to let the increase in symptoms get you down, as it can often be disheartening when you are hoping for improvement. I found it was helpful to cheer a battle cry when symptoms were at their worst. Something to the effect of “Die bas#@!d spirochetes, die!” or “I will prevail!” or “To the End!” You can make up your own. It helped keep me motivated and gave me strength to endure it! If you are feeling down, please see the Support page for more information.
Herxheimer Reaction=Die-off of Pathogenic Microbes! Yay!