What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that’s transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected black-legged or deer tick. Symptoms can occur anywhere from 3 to 30 days after the bite, and symptoms can be wide-ranging, depending on the stage of the infection.
The chances you might get Lyme disease from a tick bite depend on the kind of tick, where you were when the bite occurred, and how long the tick was attached to you, according to the CDC. Black-legged ticks must be attached to you for at least 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease.
How common is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is extremely common. The 30,000 cases of Lyme disease reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year are just the tip of the iceberg. According to a new CDC estimate, more than 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with the tick-borne disease each year. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
The common symptoms of Lyme disease are:
- Joint Swelling
- Loss of Facial Muscle Tone
- Swollen Lymph Nodes
- Memory Problems
- Muscle Pains
- Shooting Pains
- Stiff Neck
Some people may experience the following related Lyme disease symptoms and signs:
- Joint Pain
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
The rash is a pretty good indication that you may have been bitten. At this stage of the illness, treatment with antibiotics will probably be successful. If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes Lyme disease?
In the United States, Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii bacteria, carried primarily by blacklegged or deer ticks. The ticks are brown and, when young, often no bigger than a poppy seed, which can make them nearly impossible to spot.
To contract Lyme disease, an infected deer tick must bite you. The bacteria enter your skin through the bite and eventually make their way into your bloodstream. In most cases, to transmit Lyme disease, a deer tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours. If you find an attached tick looks swollen, it may have fed long enough to transmit bacteria. Removing the tick as soon as possible may prevent infection.
What increases my risk for Lyme disease?
There are many risk factors for Lyme disease, such as:
- Spending time in wooded or grassy areas. In the United States, deer ticks are most prevalent in the Northeast and Midwest regions, which have heavily wooded areas where deer ticks thrive. Children who spend a lot of time outdoors in these regions are especially at risk. Adults with outdoor occupations also are at increased risk.
- Having exposed skin. Ticks attach easily to bare flesh. If you’re in an area where ticks are common, protect yourself and your children by wearing long sleeves and long pants. Don’t allow your pets to wander in tall weeds and grasses.
- Not removing ticks promptly or properly. Bacteria from a tick bite can enter your bloodstream if the tick stays attached to your skin for 36 to 48 hours or longer. If you remove a tick within two days, your risk of acquiring Lyme disease is low.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose Lyme disease based on symptoms and a history of tick exposure. Two-step blood tests are helpful, the CDC says, if used correctly. However, the accuracy of the test depends on the disease stage; in the first few weeks of infection, the test may be negative, as antibodies take a few weeks to develop. Tests aren’t recommended for patients who don’t have Lyme disease symptoms.
How is Lyme disease treated?
Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease. In general, recovery will be quicker and more complete the sooner treatment begins.
- Oral antibiotics. These are the standard treatment for early-stage Lyme disease. These usually include doxycycline for adults and children older than 8, or amoxicillin or cefuroxime for adults, younger children, and pregnant or breast-feeding women. A 14- to 21-day course of antibiotics is usually recommended, but some studies suggest that courses lasting 10 to 14 days are equally effective.
- Intravenous antibiotics.If the disease involves the central nervous system, your doctor might recommend treatment with an intravenous antibiotic for 14 to 28 days. This is effective in eliminating infection, although it may take you some time to recover from your symptoms. Intravenous antibiotics can cause various side effects, including a lower white blood cell count, mild to severe diarrhea, or colonization or infection with other antibiotic-resistant organisms unrelated to Lyme.
After treatment, a small number of people still have some symptoms, such as muscle aches and fatigue. The cause of these continuing symptoms, known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, is unknown, and treating with more antibiotics doesn’t help. Some experts believe that certain people who get Lyme disease are predisposed to develop an autoimmune response that contributes to their symptoms. More research is needed.
The Food and Drug Administration warns against the use of bismacine, an injectable compound prescribed by some alternative medicine practitioners to treat Lyme disease. Bismacine, also known as chromacine, contains high levels of the metal bismuth. Although bismuth is safely used in some oral medications for stomach ulcers, it’s not approved for use in injectable form or as a treatment for Lyme disease. Bismacine can cause bismuth poisoning, which may lead to heart and kidney failure.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Lyme disease?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Lyme disease:
- Cover up. When in wooded or grassy areas, wear shoes, long pants tucked into your socks, a long-sleeved shirt, a hat and gloves. Try to stick to trails and avoid walking through low bushes and long grass. Keep your dog on a leash.
- Use insect repellents. Apply insect repellent with a 20 percent or higher concentration of DEET to your skin. Parents should apply repellant to their children, avoiding their hands, eyes and mouth. Keep in mind that chemical repellents can be toxic, so follow directions carefully. Apply products with permethrin to clothing or buy pretreated clothing.
- Do your best to tick-proof your yard. Clear brush and leaves where ticks live. Keep woodpiles in sunny areas.
- Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks. Be especially vigilant after spending time in wooded or grassy areas. Deer ticks are often no bigger than the head of a pin, so you may not discover them unless you search carefully.
- It’s helpful to shower as soon as you come indoors. Ticks often remain on your skin for hours before attaching themselves. Showering and using a washcloth might remove unattached ticks.
- Don’t assume you’re immune. You can get Lyme disease more than once.
- Remove a tick as soon as possible with tweezers. Gently grasp the tick near its head or mouth. Don’t squeeze or crush the tick, but pull carefully and steadily. Once you’ve removed the entire tick, dispose of it and apply antiseptic to the bite area.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Lyme disease. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/basics/definition/con-20019701. Accessed July 5, 2017.
Lyme disease 10 times more common than thought. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/lyme-disease-10-times-more-common-than-thought-201308206621. Accessed July 5, 2017.
Lyme Disease: What To Know This Season. http://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/arthritis-lyme-disease?page=1#1. Accessed July 5, 2017.
Review Date: July 6, 2017 | Last Modified: July 6, 2017