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 2 to 4-week course of antibiotics is the standard treatment.

If untreated, Lyme disease can go away on its own and not cause problems. Or it can later cause symptoms in 1 or more parts of the body.

  • Early symptoms limited to a small area. These may appear in 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 a darker outer ring and a darker center. There may be fever, chills, severe tiredness (fatigue), body aches, and headache. In time, the rash goes away, even without treatment. But that doesn't mean the infection has gone away. In some cases, early local symptoms never develop.

  • Early symptoms all over the body. These 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, and a fast, irregular, or skipped heartbeat (palpitations). It can also include passing out (fainting) and joint pain.

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

  • Post-Lyme symptoms. Many people will have leftover symptoms even after Lyme disease is treated and cured. They may include fatigue, body aches, joint aches, and headaches, which generally improve with time. Repeated courses of antibiotics don't help these symptoms to go away faster. And having the symptoms after a course of treatment doesn't mean that the Lyme bacteria is still active in the body.

Except in the earliest stage, testing is done to check for the bacteria. Standard tests for Lyme are highly accurate except in the first 2 to 4 weeks of the infection. And when the infection is treated correctly the chance of cure is very high. In some cases, a second or third course of antibiotics may be needed. Follow your healthcare provider's 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 get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these 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 fast heartbeat, palpitations, dizziness, or passing out

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