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STDWatch
Dr. Andrea Pinto Lopez

Dec 02, 20227 min read

Lyme Disease - Symptoms and Causes

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Have you ever been bitten by a tick and worried whether it could give you a disease? Ticks belong to a type of insect called arthropods. Vector-borne diseases are a group of infectious diseases that are transmitted by arthropods, including other insects such as fleas and spiders.

Lyme disease is a relatively common condition, but it can cause symptoms that range from mild to life-threatening. Keep reading to find out more about Lyme diseases, its symptoms, and causes.

What is Lyme disease?

According to the NHS, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to human beings through tick bites. In the United States, Lyme disease typically comes from a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, while some cases are due to Borrelia mayonii. However, there are other types of the Borrelia bacteria that cause Lyme disease in other parts of the world, including Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii.

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The tick that transmits Lyme disease is known as black-legged or deer tick. Lyme disease is relatively common in specific areas of the United States, especially in the mid-Atlantic, Northeast, and Upper Midwest regions. Historically, Lyme disease was also known as borreliosis.

Lyme disease signs and symptoms list

The symptoms for Lyme disease in humans can range between different people. According to the Cleveland Clinic, some of the most common signs of Lyme disease can include:

  • A bull’s eye rash after a tick bite. This rash is known as erythema migrans (EM). It’s a reddish rash that appears 1 to 4 weeks after the bite, and it forms a triangular, circular, or oval rash. The rash has a red center and a red ring that surround a clear area, which gives it a bull’s eye appearance. Different lesions can appear in different parts of your body.
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Stiff neck

What does Lyme disease do to the body

Lyme disease can progress in different stages, which include:

  • Early localized Lyme disease (weeks 1-4): flu-like symptoms. Many patients only experience symptoms of early localized Lyme.
  • Early disseminated Lyme disease (months 1-4): in this stage, you can have multiple erythema migrans lesions, paralysis of your facial muscles (Bell’s palsy), heart block, numbness in your limbs or other parts of your body. According to StatPearls, approximately 20% of patients with Lyme progress to this stage.
  • Late persistent or disseminated Lyme disease (4 months to several years): arthritis, encephalopathy or brain damage, and neuropathy or nerve damage. The most common location of Lyme-related arthritis is the knees.

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How do I know if I have Lyme disease?

Most cases of Lyme disease can be diagnosed according to your symptoms, medical history, and possible exposure to infected ticks in your geographic area. However, it’s important to keep in mind that Lyme symptoms can be similar to the manifestations of other diseases. Additionally, ticks can transmit other diseases. According to the CDC, other tick-borne diseases include:

  • Babesiosis
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • Anaplasmosis
  • Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness
  • Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever
  • Tularemia
  • Colorado tick fever
  • Powassan encephalitis
  • Q fever

Certain lab tests can be used in the diagnosis of Lyme disease, especially if you’re showing signs of Lyme disease but the diagnosis isn’t clear. According to the Mayo Clinic, these tests work by detecting antibodies against Lyme disease, which means that they are more reliable once a few weeks have passed. This is because your body needs some time to develop antibodies. Tests for Lyme disease include:

  • Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test: this test is more commonly used, but it can produce negative false results sometimes. This is why another test is used to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Western blot test: this test is used to confirm a Lyme disease diagnosis if the ELISA test was positive.

Some providers offer at-home test kits for Lyme disease. These tests typically use a fingerstick blood sample, which is very easy and quick to collect. It’s important to follow the instructions that come with your testing kit. Once you have collected the sample, you may be asked to mail it back to the provider or drop it off at a lab yourself. Test results for Lyme disease are usually delivered within 1-2 weeks.

How do I know if a tick has Lyme disease?

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to know whether a tick has Lyme disease just by looking at it. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, ticks typically live in low-growing grasslands, wooded areas, and yards in some places. It’s hard to know the specific percentage of Lyme disease in ticks in each location, but it has been estimated that the percentage of infected ticks can range from less than 1% to more than 50%.

Visit STDWatch.com now to learn more about other health topics, at-home test providers, and much more.

Sources

Lyme disease - nhs.uk

Lyme Disease - my.clevelandclinic.org

Lyme Disease - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Tick-Borne Diseases - cdc.gov

Lyme disease - mayoclinic.org

Ticks and Lyme Disease - hopkinsmedicine.org


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