Healthy Living

Lyme Disease: The Signs and Symptoms

Lyme disease: The signs and symptoms

Key Takeaways

  • Lyme disease has three stages: early localized, early disseminated, and late disease.
  • A characteristic "bull's-eye" rash is the earliest sign of Lyme disease.
  • Lyme disease could become a life-threatening disease if left untreated.

Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium called as Borrelia burgdorferi. It is transmitted to humans via a common tick after feeding on human blood. In most affected individuals, the disease is acute, which is only lasting for a short period of time. But for the rest, the bacteria can continue to live on causing chronic disease.

Lyme disease

If you have been bitten by a tick and shows any of the early symptoms of Lyme disease, you should consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

The Three Stages of Lyme Disease

1. Early Localized Disease

The symptoms of Lyme disease begin to appear 1 to 2 weeks after a tick bite. A large raised red spot appears at the site of the tick bite, and this spot is called as erythema migrans. This sign is also known as the "bull’s-eye" rash. This characteristic rash is an early sign of Lyme disease and indicates that the bacteria are multiplying in the blood.

The thighs, buttocks, trunk, and armpit are the usual sites of the rash. However, the rash will disappear within 3 to 4 weeks. In 25 percent of patients with Lyme disease, either they never develop this rash or never notice the red spot.

2. Early Disseminated Lyme Disease

This stage is when the bacteria spread throughout the body via the blood. You will develop general non-specific symptoms such as fatigability, chills, fever, headaches, muscle aches and pains, a stiff neck, and painful swollen joints.

Erythema migrans spots may occur in other areas of the body as well. Other systems of the body will also get affected such as the nervous and cardiovascular system.

The nervous system is affected in about 15 percent of the patients. If the nervous system gets affected, you will develop meningitis and Bell’s palsy. Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain. The disease causes neck stiffness, headache, photophobia, and fever. Bell’s palsy happens when one of the facial nerves that controls the muscles in your face gets inflamed or swollen.

If the cardiovascular system is affected, arrhythmias, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), and pericarditis (inflammation of the sac containing the heart) may occur. Arrhythmias present palpitations, lightheadedness, and fainting episodes whereas myocarditis and pericarditis usually manifest chest pain. About 8 percent of the patients with Lyme disease have irregular heartbeats.

People with Lyme disease may experience memory loss with a deprived concentration capacity. Moreover, conjunctivitis, which is also known as "pinkeye" appears with the disease and sometimes cause severe damage to the inner tissues of the eyes.

3. Late Disseminated Lyme Disease

This stage occurs if the disease has not been treated in stage 1 or 2. The late disseminated Lyme disease occurs several weeks, months, or years after the tick bite. The characteristic features of this stage are:

  • joint pain and swelling (arthritis in one or more joints)
  • severe headache
  • difficulty in concentrating
  • a short-term loss of memory
  • numbness in the arms, legs, hands, and feet that can lead to impaired muscle movements
  • head and neck stiffness
  • erythema migrans (EM) appear in other regions of the body
  • extreme fatigue and restlessness
  • recurrent pain in the tendons, bones, muscles, and joints
  • facial palsy (a condition where the patient loses control in the facial muscles, which have a drooping facial muscle tone)
  • episodes of vertigo and dizziness
  • shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing
  • pain in the nerves
  • inflammation of the brain and the spinal cord

Arthritis can also be experienced, which has adverse effects on the knees. It is usually accompanied by severe pain in the joints, particularly in the knees and larger joints followed by an excessive swelling. However, chronic Lyme arthritis is also observed in a smaller number of individuals, where recurring episodes of bulging and inflammation are experienced.

People who have Lyme disease may also experience neurological problems such as meningitis (inflammation of the protective membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord) and Bell’s palsy (temporary paralysis of one side of the face). These may appear several weeks, months, or maybe years after the infection.

Lyme disease should be promptly treated and advice should be taken from an experienced doctor since any carelessness may cause damage to the brain, nerves, and joints that appear several weeks, months, or years after acquiring the infection. This stage would probably be the most serious stage of Lyme disease.

Less Common Symptoms of Lyme disease:

  • eye inflammation
  • hepatitis
  • severe fatigue
  • heart problems

Heart problems are rare but can occur months or even years after a person gets bitten by an infected tick. Problems may include sessions of irregular heartbeat, which last no longer than a few days or weeks. However, other serious problems such as pericarditis, which is the inflammation of the fibrous sac that surrounds the heart with sudden onset of chest pain, usually resolve on its own without causing any severe risk or damage.

If you have developed any of the above symptoms, consult your doctor as soon as possible as they could be signs that you are suffering from Lyme disease. Take medications before the disease progresses into the late disseminated stage, which could even be life-threatening.

It is always suggested to consult a doctor even after the symptoms disappear since they may appear again later on or may lead to other serious complications and health issues. Moreover, the disappearance of the signs and symptoms doesn’t indicate that the disease is gone. The treatment for Lyme disease may prove effective if it is initiated early. Furthermore, if Lyme disease is left untreated, then there is a strong possibility that the infection may spread to the other parts of the body leading to the initiation of arthritis and several other neurological issues.

Ticks are also responsible for transmitting other illnesses such as babesiosis, which is caused by microscopic parasites that infect the RBC’s, and the Colorado tick fever (CTF), which is a viral infection that also spreads through a tick bite. It causes fever, headache, chills, body aches, and retardation.