the Lyme Diaries: Herxheimer Reaction ("herx")

October 17, 2014

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One of the words that I use a lot in "Lymie World" is "herxing" or "herx" to discuss something that is taking place in my body. Every Lymie (and their loved ones) recognize the lingo but to be honest many people outside of "Lymie World" hear it so much but have absolutely no idea what it is or what it is referring to. I thought I would take a few moments today to explain what this strange word means and hopefully provide some clear definition for those that are curious. 

Some History... 
The term "Herxheimer Reaction"  (or more technically known as "Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction") is named in honor of an Austrian and German doctor who are credited with discovering this particular reaction. Both men (Adolf Jarisch and Karl Herxheimer) observed patients reacting to treatment of syphilis and performed studies on this reaction. While it was at first thought to be an "autoimmune" reaction, we now know that it occurs due to the amount of endotoxins that are released as treatment happens and the body does not have the capability to get rid of these toxins fast enough which causes the reaction. (Yes, that was written in "lay persons" words, not from a medical dictionary. *smiles*)

Although it was first discovered in syphilis, it is generally and widely accepted that this type of reaction happens with "spirochetes" based diseases (which of course includes Lyme Disease). It is also believed that herxing occurs in those combatting Candida Albicans infections, causing what is known as candida die off. Although there have been varying ideas, this is not a commonly accepted (in the medical community) theory for diseases outside of spirochetes based diseases.  

What is this Process Called?
While technically this is known as the "Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction" it can be referred to as "a herx", "herxing", "the Herxheimer Response/ or / Reaction", "a detox reaction", "healing crisis", or "die-off syndrome".

What Exactly is It?
As I mentioned above a "herx reaction" takes place as the patient tries to treat the disease and they have an overload of endotoxins that flood there bloodstream and can not release them quick enough. 

To be clear the body is reacting to the amount of endotoxins that are being killed and released into the blood stream (by treatment or detoxification) and not are not reacting to the medicine or treatment itself. 

What Exactly Happens?
When a patient has a "herx reaction" they develop aggravated or worsening symptoms of their disease. These symptoms can commonly include (but are not limited to): mild symptoms - like a low grade fever, headaches, flushes, rashes, flu-like symptoms; to more serious symptoms- including migraines, high fevers, rashes, flu-like symptoms (including dehydration) , dizziness, intensification of original presenting symptoms (which could include a myriad of symptoms), extreme nausea, joint or muscle pain, extreme fatigue, sleep disturbances, swollen glands, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, heart palpitations, conjunctivitis, etc. 

While most "herx reactions" last for a few hours to a few weeks and are difficult to manage, there are some patients who this becomes a serious and life-threatening issue with regards to their treatment. 

The Herxheimer Reaction is definitely a difficult thing to deal with in treatment. Many patients (myself included) experience an intensification of original presenting symptoms and it can feel like you are quickly going backward instead of moving forward. Emotionally it can be a difficult road to walk. While some patients view the "herx" as something to rejoice over (because of the knowledge that you are killing toxins and you are getting better) I personally have found this to be an extremely difficult part of treatment and am so glad to have a qualified doctor to discuss my symptoms and who has helped me navigate these tricky waters. ( I can't stress enough how important it is to have a qualified doctor who will help guide you through all parts of your treatment, including the Herxheimer Reaction. Studies have now shown that certain herxheimer symptoms need specialized attention due to what they indicate is going on in the body. PLEASE discuss all of your symptoms with your doctor!) I won't lie though... the Herxheimer Reaction has been a great source of many tears on my part through this process. 

Time Frames with Herxheimer Reactions...
There is varying thoughts and data about the time frames related with a herxheimer reaction. Some medical professionals believe that it can occur within 24 hours of treatment and then others believe that it can take up to 5 days to have a reaction. Honestly, it appears (like many things with Lyme Disease *smiles*) that it varies from individual to individual and is based on the level of toxicity in the body.

Helping "end" the Herxheimer Reaction... 
There are a number of thoughts on what to do to help you work through (and "survive") a herxheimer reaction. I won't bore you with all of the lists of ideas but I would definitely recommend consulting your doctor and also treating your body with care. I drink lots of water (more than usual!), get plenty of rest, and emotionally spend a lot of time in prayer and using my "feel better" list

Severe Herxheimer Reactions...
It is very important to seek medical care while going through a herx, and to seek medical care IMMEDIATELY if you develop serious or unusual herx symptoms or symptoms involving heart issues. 

Discuss with Your Physician...
ALL that you are experiencing. You do not want to stop a medication or try to "treat" the herx without the guidance of a trained professional. 

What about y'all? Have you experienced a herx? Any tips on how you deal with this?


  1. oh wow, my prayers are with you and anyone who might have this. In todays society we must take very good precautions to protect ourselves .. There are so many bad things , either in our foods, on our clothing, in the air, from the ground... Thanks for share

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and for your comment! I truly appreciate your prayers and and also the time you took to comment and read this post!
      :) Rebecca
      p.s.- I would have loved to have sent you a direct email back but unfortunately you are a "no reply blogger" and I wasn't able to email you. Thank you again for your comment and I look forward to hopefully connecting with you more in the future! :)