Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria. The infection is most often passed during the bite of a deer tick. The tick is very small, so many people with Lyme disease don't know they have been bitten. Tests for Lyme disease are not always accurate early in the disease. If the disease is suspected, treatment may start before testing confirms the infection. A long course of antibiotics is the standard treatment.

If untreated, Lyme disease can cause symptoms in many parts of the body that may worsen.

  • Early symptoms limited to a small area may appear within a few days to a month after the tick bite. These symptoms may include a round, red rash that sometimes looks like a bull's-eye target with darker outer ring and a darker center. There may fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, and headache. In time, the rash goes away, even without treatment. That doesn't mean the infection has gone away, however. In some cases, early local symptoms never develop.

  • Early body-wide symptoms may appear weeks to months after the bite. These can include rashes on the skin of various parts of the body, muscle aches, fatigue, fever, headache, stiff neck, weakness on one side of the face, dizziness, palpitations, passing out, and joint pain and swelling.

  • Late-stage symptoms can include weakness in an arm, or leg, headache, fever, and numbness and tingling in the arms or legs, joint pain and swelling, confusion, and memory loss.

  • Many people will have left over symptoms even after treatment and cure of the Lyme disease. These are called post-Lyme symptoms and may include fatigue, body aches, joint aches, and headaches, which generally improve with time. Repeated courses of antibiotics don't help these symptoms to resolve faster. And, having the symptoms after a course of treatment does not mean that the Lyme bacteria is still active in the body.

Testing is done to check for the bacteria. When the infection is treated early, it can be cured. In some cases, a second or third course of antibiotics may be needed. Be sure to follow your healthcare providers directions about treatment.

Home care

If antibiotic pills have been prescribed, take them exactly as directed until they are completely gone. Don't stop taking them until you have taken the full course or your healthcare provider has told you to stop.

Ask your healthcare provider about taking over-the-counter medicines to control symptoms such as aches and fever.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. Be sure to return for follow-up testing as directed to be sure the infection has been treated.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of the following occur:

  • Current symptoms get worse

  • Unexplained fever, neck pain or stiffness, or headache

  • Arm, leg or facial weakness

  • Joint pain or swelling

  • Numbness and tingling in the arms or legs

  • Confusion or memory loss

  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat, palpitations, dizziness, or passing out

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