By: Dr. Chelsea Slyker, PharmD, MPH
Lyme disease is a tick borne illness that is estimated to affect around 300,000 people annually. It is carried by the black-legged tick, found in northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central states, and the western black-legged tick, found on the Pacific coast. Most of those infected are bitten by immature ticks which are very small and hard to see. Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose, so it is crucial to check for tick bites after spending time outdoors and be aware of the signs and symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Signs and symptoms of are broken down into early stages and late stages. Knowing the early signs and getting the appropriate treatment can prevent the illness from progressing and can lead to a full recovery.
Early signs and symptoms of occur 3 to 30 days after the tick bite and include:
- Fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes
- A characteristic rash known as an erythema migrans (EM) rash which is warm to the touch and takes on a ‘bulls-eye’ appearance
Late signs and symptoms of can occur days to months after the tick bite if it is not treated appropriately and include:
- Headache and neck stiffness
- Additional EM rashes
- Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, specifically in the knees
- Facial palsy (droop on one or both sides of the face due to a loss of muscle tone)
- Heart palpitations
- Dizziness or shortness of breath
- Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
- Nerve pain
- Sharp pain, numbness, or tingling in hands or feet
- Short-term memory loss
Treating Lyme Disease
By understanding the early signs of Lyme disease, you can effectively treat it to prevent the potentially dangerous late symptoms. If you experience any early signs following a tick bite you should see a doctor right away for antibiotics. Lyme disease is typically treated with doxycycline, cefuroxime, or amoxicillin for a duration of 10-21 days depending on the patient. If these are used early, patients typically have a fast and full recovery.
This disease is seen more often in northeastern states, though cases have been reported across the nation. You should familiarize yourself with the symptoms regardless of where you live to prevent any long-term complications. Prevention is always the best treatment, so be sure to take the appropriate precautions when spending time outdoors.
For more information on Lyme disease and how to identify it, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/faq/index.html