What Is a Herxheimer Reaction? Do Infrared Sauna Sessions Come Into Play?
Those of you who have experienced a severe infection or suffer from Lyme disease or certain other systemic, chronic medical conditions may already be familiar with the term "Herxheimer Reaction." Others of you may have experienced it but not known what it's called - or even what hit you. This article is intended to help you understand what this reaction is and what experiencing one means for your body and your state of health. We'll also explore whether infrared sauna sessions can cause such a reaction to occur.
A Herxheimer Reaction actually goes by many names. The full, technical name of the syndrome is the Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction, but it is also called a JHR, the Herxheimer Effect, the Herxheimer Response, a Herx or a Herx Reaction. Some people generically refer to it as a detox reaction, a healing crisis or a die-off syndrome.
Basically, it is an exaggerated immune system response to the significant levels of toxins that are suddenly released into the body as large numbers of bacteria or other microscopic pathogens are being killed off. The die-off of these toxin-releasing pathogens is usually caused by a course of antibiotics taken to combat certain health conditions. The body eventually purges the toxins, but the clearance process sometimes doesn't happen quickly enough to avoid what has come to be called a Herx Reaction.
Typically, a Herx is triggered during the body's detoxification process and is a temporary effect, lasting from a few days to a week or two - the length of time the body needs to detoxify completely. Until the body eliminates the toxins released by the dying pathogens, the toxins either worsen the symptoms of the health condition being treated, or (being toxic) they give rise to symptoms themselves. A Herxheimer Effect's symptoms often resemble the flu - joint and muscle pain, fatigue, headache, body aches, sweating, chills, sore throat, nausea and so forth.
People taking antibiotics who experience a Herxheimer Effect are often tempted to abandon their medication because they feel worse than they did before starting the medication. What needs to be remembered is that a Herx Reaction is not only temporary, but an indication that the antibiotics are successfully battling the pathogens that are causing the underlying disease. In other words, unless your Herx symptoms are severe, you should continue taking your antibiotics even if you think they're causing you to feel miserable. That awful feeling is actually a sign that your treatment is working and killing the organisms responsible for your medical condition.
Herxheimer Reactions vary from hardly noticeable to almost hellish, with several factors seeming to affect their severity. These factors appear to include the individual's overall health, the particular medical condition being treated, the level of toxins that are released into the body, the type, frequency and dosage of the medication, and the type of support given to the body to enhance its ability to purge the toxins. As we alluded to earlier, Lyme disease is one of the medical conditions which, when treated, sometimes causes a noticeable Herxheimer Reaction. This may very well be why so many Lyme disease patients never complete the full course of their treatment.
You might (or might not) already be aware that some Lyme disease patients are convinced that infrared sauna sessions help to alleviate the symptoms of their disease. Some of these patients say they feel like they "herx" or experience something similar after they use an infrared sauna. They're probably not experiencing a true Herxheimer Reaction, however. Instead, they may just be feeling the short-term effects caused by cooling down after they step out of the infrared sauna. The deep-to-the-bone chills, fatigue, myalgia and other debilitating symptoms of a true Herxheimer Reaction are typically caused by the use of medication used to treat Lyme disease, not infrared sauna sessions. As this medication kills off the spirochete bacteria that cause Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), the bacteria release endotoxins into the patient's bloodstream, a process which then sometimes triggers a real Herxheimer Reaction.
A Herx Effect can definitely make you feel worse before you start feeling better, but it has nothing to do with any sessions in an infrared sauna. Instead, it is your body's normal physiological response to the release of an overload of toxins into your system, triggered by taking antibiotic medication to treat Lyme disease or certain other medical conditions.
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