Recognizing Symptoms of Lyme Disease

by Dr. Anne Bass
Deer Tick

Now that summer’s here, I bet you’ve already had a friend tell you he or she has Lyme disease, especially if you live somewhere in the Northeast.  Because small deer ticks feed on mice, deer and humans in the late spring and early summer, this is the most common time for symptoms of early Lyme disease to appear.

So what are the symptoms of Lyme disease? Lots of people think that Lyme can do just about anything, but in fact Lyme disease causes just a few symptoms patterns that doctors can easily recognize.  (Blood testing is used for confirmation in some cases.) Some people with Lyme disease complain of being tired, but fatigue all by itself is not a symptom of Lyme disease.

Early Lyme Disease Symptoms

These symptoms begin 3-30 days after the bite of an infected deer tick. Blood testing for Lyme will be NEGATIVE at this time so the diagnosis is made based on symptoms alone.  People who are treated with antibiotics for early Lyme disease generally don’t develop later disease. Symptoms may include:

  • Bull’s-eye rash (“erythema chronica migrans”)—this rash is round or oval, flat, red (sometimes with lighter rings inside), and larger than the size of a U.S. quarter. The rash slowly expands in size over a week or two and then goes away, even if it is not treated. Because the rash develops at the site of the tick bite, it is often found behind the knee, under the arm, at the waist, or on other warm and protected areas.
  • “Flu-like symptoms” such as fever, headache, muscle and joint aches.  (But cough, sore throat and stuffy nose are not symptoms of Lyme disease, so if these are present, you don’t have to worry.)
Dr. Anne Bass, Rheumatologist

Dr. Anne Bass, Rheumatologist

Later Lyme Disease Symptoms

Other symptoms develop within the first few weeks to months after infection:

  • Migrating joint pain and swelling
  • Multiple bull’s-eye rashes—these spread from the original rash and don’t mean you’ve had multiple tick bites
  • Meningitis—fever, headache, stiff neck, light sensitivity
  • Bell’s palsy—a condition where there is weakness on one side of the face, producing “droopiness” of the mouth and eyelid
  • Nerve root pain in an arm, leg or torso—this is sometimes mistaken for a pinched nerve or shingles
  • Carditis—changes in the heartbeat that can cause dizziness or fainting

Some symptoms begin many months or years after infection:

  • Arthritis—usually in one knee. The knee can be very swollen, but it is usually not terribly painful.
  • Neuropathy (numbness in the hands and feet) and encephalopathy (a brain problem)—this is more of a problem in Europe than in theU.S.because Lyme bacteria are different there

Remember, Lyme disease is very treatable so call your doctor if you have symptoms, but otherwise don’t sweat it, ENJOY YOUR SUMMER!

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The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.

Comments

Emilie Mikez says:

Lyme disease can affect multiple body systems and produce a range of symptoms. Not all patients with Lyme disease will have all symptoms, and many of the symptoms are not specific to Lyme disease, but can occur with other diseases as well. The incubation period from infection to the onset of symptoms is usually one to two weeks, but can be much shorter (days), or much longer (months to years).

Adele Kerwin says:

Most ticks do not carry diseases, and most tick bites do not cause serious health problems. But it is important to remove a tick as soon as you find it. Removing the tick””s body helps you avoid diseases the tick may pass on during feeding. Removing the tick””s head helps prevent an infection in the skin where it bit you. See the Home Treatment section of this topic for the best way to remove a tick.

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