Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is diagnosed and treated by the Rheumatology Division of Premier Medical Group.

What is Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks.  Laboratory testing is helpful if used correctly and performed with validated methods. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, applying pesticides, and reducing tick habitat. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tickborne diseases as well.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease

These signs and symptoms may occur within a month after you’ve been infected:

  • Rash. A small, red bump may appear at the site of the tick bite. This small bump is normal after a tick bite and doesn’t indicate Lyme disease. However, over the next few days, the redness may expand forming a rash in a bull’s-eye pattern, with a red outer ring surrounding a clear area. The rash, called erythema migrans, is one of the hallmarks of Lyme disease. Some people develop this rash at more than one place on their bodies.
  • Flu-like symptoms. Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches and a headache may accompany the rash.

 

Later signs and symptoms:

In some people, the rash may spread to other parts of the body and, several weeks to months after you’ve been infected, you may experience:

  • Joint pain. You may develop bouts of severe joint pain and swelling. Your knees are especially likely to be affected, but the pain can shift from one joint to another.
  • Neurological problems. Weeks, months or even years after you were infected, you may experience inflammation of the membranes surrounding your brain (meningitis), temporary paralysis of one side of your face (Bell’s palsy), numbness or weakness in your limbs, and impaired muscle movement.

Less common signs and symptoms:

Several weeks after infection, some people develop:

  • Heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat. Heart problems rarely last more than a few days or weeks.
  • Eye inflammation.
  • Liver inflammation (hepatitis).
  • Severe fatigue.

 

When to see a doctor about Lyme Disease

If you’ve been bitten by a tick and experience symptoms.

Only a minority of deer tick bites leads to Lyme disease. The longer the tick remains attached to your skin, the greater your risk of getting the disease. If you think you’ve been bitten and experience signs and symptoms of Lyme disease — particularly if you live in an area where Lyme disease is prevalent — contact your doctor immediately. Treatment for Lyme disease is most effective if begun early.

See your doctor even if symptoms disappear:

It’s important to consult your doctor even if signs and symptoms disappear because the absence of symptoms doesn’t mean the disease is gone. Left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to other parts of your body from several months to years after infection — causing arthritis and nervous system problems. Ticks also can transmit other illnesses, such as babesiosis and Colorado tick fever.

 

Treatment of Lyme Disease

Patients treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely. Antibiotics commonly used for oral treatment include doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil. Patients with certain neurological or cardiac forms of illness may require intravenous treatment with drugs such as ceftriaxone or penicillin.

Approximately 10 to 20% of patients (particularly those who were diagnosed later), who received appropriate antibiotic treatment, may have persistent or recurrent symptoms and are considered to have Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded several studies on the treatment of Lyme disease which show that most patients recover when treated with a few weeks of antibiotics taken by mouth.