Lyme disease is a growing problem in many areas around the world. Climate change is allowing ticks, who carry the disease, to thrive and proliferate, therefore spreading more Lyme to more people. If not caught immediately, this illness becomes chronic and causes many health problems. Understanding the signs and symptoms is important so you can get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
Understanding Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. It is primarily found in regions with dense forests or tall grasses, where ticks thrive. It can manifest in two different stages – acute and chronic Lyme disease. Acute refers to the initial stage, while chronic Lyme occurs when the infection is untreated or not fully eradicated. Understanding the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease is crucial to ensure early diagnosis and treatment. (1)
Acute vs. Chronic Lyme Disease
If you notice you have a tick bite and can get medical attention right away, Lyme disease is relatively straightforward to treat. Usually, this involves a round of antibiotics to kill any potential bacteria. It is important to note that while not all ticks carry Lyme, you can’t know if the one that bit you does or not. The window for treatment is very short before becoming chronic, so it is important to seek medical help right away.
Acute Lyme Disease
The early symptoms of acute Lyme disease typically appear within 3 to 30 days after a tick bite. These include:
1. Bullseye Rash (Erythema migrans)
One of the hallmark signs of Lyme disease, a bullseye-shaped rash, often occurs at the tick bite site. It may expand over time and is usually not itchy or painful.
2. Flu-like Symptoms
Fever, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes are common flu-like symptoms experienced in the early stage of the disease.
3. Neurological Symptoms
In some cases, acute Lyme disease can lead to mild neurological symptoms like facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy), numbness or tingling in the limbs, and impaired muscle movement.
Chronic Lyme Disease
When Lyme disease goes undiagnosed or untreated, it can progress to the chronic and more severe stage. One of the problems is that the symptoms of chronic Lyme are non-specific, meaning that they are present in many other health problems. Sufferers of chronic Lyme often struggle to get a diagnosis because doctors confuse it with Fibromyalgia or other autoimmune diseases or think that they are hypochondriacs and making it all up. Symptoms of chronic Lyme disease may include:
1. Joint Pain
Persistent and migrating joint pain, often affecting large joints like the knees, hips, shoulders, and elbows. (2)
2. Muscle Weakness/Paralysis
Muscle weakness and decreased muscle tone may occur, making activities requiring strength more challenging. In particular, a condition called Facial Palsy can occur, which causes the muscles on one side of the face to become paralyzed temporarily and droop.
3. Neurological Issues
Chronic Lyme disease may lead to more severe neurological symptoms, such as memory problems, difficulty concentrating, confusion, and psychiatric conditions like anxiety or depression. (3)
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4. Heart Problems
In rare cases, Lyme can cause heart complications, including irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), chest pain, and shortness of breath.
5. Vision and Eye Problems
Blurred vision, sensitivity to light (photophobia), and eye inflammation (uveitis) are potential signs of chronic Lyme disease. (4)
6. Fatigue and Sleep Disturbances
Prolonged fatigue, excessive tiredness, and disturbances in sleep patterns are commonly reported in chronic Lyme patients.
7. Digestive Issues
Some individuals may experience digestive problems like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain. (5)
8. Migrating Symptoms
Symptoms can often appear and disappear in various parts of the body, making diagnosis challenging. (6)
9. Dizziness and Vertigo
Chronic Lyme disease may cause dizziness, unsteadiness, and vertigo, making it difficult to maintain balance.
10. Sensitivity to Temperature
Intolerance to temperature changes, such as feeling excessively cold or hot, can be a symptom of chronic Lyme. (7)
11. Skin Conditions
Skin manifestations like rashes, hives, or eczema-like patches can occur in some cases of the disease.
12. Headaches and Migraines
Frequent or recurring headaches, including migraines, can be associated with chronic Lyme.
13. Swollen Glands
Enlargement of lymph nodes, especially in the neck, armpits, or groin, are other possible signs.
14. Emotional Disturbances
Mood swings, irritability, and emotional instability can be observed among those with chronic Lyme disease.
15. Cognitive Impairment
Difficulty with memory, attention, and cognitive processes, often referred to as “brain fog,” are common complaints from individuals with the disease.
16. Weight Fluctuations
Unexplained weight gain or loss that persists despite regular eating habits may indicate chronic Lyme disease.
17. Menstrual Irregularities
Women with chronic Lyme may experience changes in their menstrual cycles or irregular periods.
The Bottom Line
Lyme disease is a complex condition that can present differently depending on the stage of the infection. By recognizing the early signs and symptoms of acute Lyme disease and understanding the potential progression to chronic Lyme disease, individuals can seek prompt medical attention and receive appropriate treatment. If you suspect you may have it, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and management.
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- “Signs and Symptoms of Untreated Lyme Diseas e.” CDC
- “Lyme Diseas e.” CID. Eugene D. Shapiro and Michael A. Gerber.
- “Lyme Diseas e Clinical Presentation.” Medscape. John O Meyerhoff, MD.
- “Post-treatment Lyme disease e syndrome symptomatology and the impact on life functioning: is there something here?” NCBI. John N. Aucott, et al.
- ” Lyme Diseas e.” Bad Gut
- “Lyme Diseas e.” Penn Medicine
- “Symptoms of Lyme Diseas e.” Dr Todd Maderis.