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What is Lyme Disease?

The Basics

According to the Center for Disease Control, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne illness in the United States. The CDC has estimated that more than 300,000 in the United States are diagnosed with Lyme disease every year.

Lyme disease can affect people of all ages. Still, there are exceptionally high occurrences among children between the ages of 5-14 and adults between the ages of 45-64. Early Lyme disease is usually reported most frequently in the spring through fall with significant spikes in June through August.


What Causes Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi that’s transmitted to humans through the bite of infected ticks, specifically black-legged ticks. Black-legged ticks can be found in 43 out of 50 states in the U.S., according to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.

Black-legged ticks, also known as Deer ticks, will attach themselves to a host and suck their blood over the course of several days. If the tick has attached to an animal and the animal has the Lyme disease agent, then the tick can ingest the pathogen and become infected. From that point, if the tick bites a human, then the pathogen will be spread, and the tick can do this for the rest of its life.


What are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?

The symptoms of early Lyme disease include a rash that lasts from three to 30 days, fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, headaches, neck stiffness, and swollen lymph nodes.

Later signs or symptoms can include erythema migrans (the rash appearing on different areas of the body), joint pain (bouts of severe joint pain and swelling, primarily affecting the knees), and neurological problems such as temporary paralysis and meningitis.


When to See Your Doctor

Only a small minority of tick bites actually lead to Lyme disease. However, the longer the tick remains attached to your skin, the higher the risk of catching the disease. If you think you’ve been bitten and you’ve shown the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease, then contact your doctor.

The symptoms of Lyme disease can disappear for a time, but it’s recommended you go and see your doctor anyway. Without receiving proper treatment, the effects of Lyme disease can go on for years.


How Can Lyme Disease be Treated?

The easiest and most common treatment for people with early stages of Lyme disease is to take antibiotics. The antibiotics typically used for oral treatment can include doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil. Treatment will usually last between 10-21 days, depending on the age of the patient and medicine they’re using.

However, those with late Lyme disease will have a slightly different treatment with the same medication. Typically people with late-stage symptoms of Lyme disease will undergo a longer treatment period of about 28 days rather than the standard 10-21 days.


What Happens if Lyme Disease Isn’t Treated?

There are a few different things that can happen if Lyme disease goes untreated. Lyme disease can stay in your body for years until it’s treated, and you’ll continually experience the common symptoms. However, there are a few complications that can arise from untreated Lyme disease.

In addition to the continuation of regular symptoms, there also runs the risk of developing chronic joint inflammation, neurological symptoms, cognitive defects, and heart rhythm irregularities. The chronic joint inflammation, known as Lyme arthritis, will typically affect the knee. Cognitively, Lyme disease can impair your memory and even cause depression.


What are Some Other Diseases Like Lyme Disease?

Rheumatoid arthritis and Lyme disease are very different but have very similar symptoms. Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term disease that can lead to joint inflammation and affects the soft tissues around your joints. Both share symptoms of pain and swelling in the joints and muscles, fatigue, and fever.

Fibromyalgia also mimics Lyme disease in a few different ways. Fibromyalgia is primarily characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain that will usually start after some type of physical trauma or infection. Both diseases have symptoms like body pain, muscle and joint stiffness, fatigue, headaches, and other cognitive difficulties.