Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is transmitted to humans through bites from an infected tick. This disease is most prevalent in the northeast and Midwest areas of the United States. Contrary to popular belief, Lyme disease is not the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome or any other similar conditions. Lyme disease has specific symptoms that can be easily diagnosed.


Initially the symptoms include a flat red rash that spreads outward from the location of the bite.

It can spread two more inches and develops a clear center that gives it a target or bull’s eye appearance. The rash is usually painless and does not tend to cause itching. Other symptoms include fever, achy joints and muscles, headache, fatigue and a stiff neck.

Over the span of several days to several weeks after the bite, Lyme disease can begin to cause neurological problems like meningitis, an infection of the tissues that line the brain and the spinal cord. It can also cause inflammation of the heart, known as carditis, which can lead to irregular heart rhythms with dizziness and fainting. It is possible that Lyme disease can cause a chronic arthritis known as migratory arthritis, which generally affects one knee or produces episodes of swelling in multiple joints. The late stages of the disease cause difficulty with concentration and memory.


To diagnose Lyme disease, the doctor will perform a physical and neurological examination and ask about the symptoms you are experiencing.

If the tick was removed and saved, the doctor may want to send the insect to the lab to identify it and analyze the tick for Lyme bacteria. Blood tests often come up negative for up four to six weeks after the bite. After this period, a test called an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is performed, but due to the high false positive rate a Western blot is performed to confirm the presence of Lyme disease.

A positive Western blot does not necessarily indicate that the disease is active and requires treatment. Blood tests can be positive for years after the disease is treated or becomes inactive. A fluid sample can be taken from an affected joint using a needle and analyzed for Lyme disease antibodies to help with a diagnosis.


Recovery time is usually around two to six weeks without the use of antibiotics. As the immune system fights the infection the symptoms improve, although it is common for the disease to recur. Significant improvement is seen in two to six weeks after starting the highly effective antibiotic treatment.


When you are in an area where Lyme disease is prevalent, take proper precautions to avoid infection. Avoid high brush and grasses where ticks can hide, wear long clothing to cover your arms and legs, and examine your skin for ticks after returning from wooded or grassy areas. The risk of contracting Lyme disease is low, so antibiotics are not always prescribed for a tick bite.

For people that live in regions where there is a high risk for Lyme disease, the disease can be prevented if the infected person is treated with doxycycline within three days.

When to Call a Doctor

Doctors will commonly prescribe antibiotics for the early Lyme rash. If carditis, arthritis or any neurological conditions due to the infection are detected, the antibiotic treatment will usually be extended to four weeks.

Call a doctor if you experience any rash or flulike symptoms after being bitten by or coming in contact with a tick. If facial paralysis, arthritis or heart palpitations occur it is important to seek medical advice. Symptoms should clear up after a few weeks on antibiotics, but be sure to let the doctor know if there is no improvement after two to three weeks. 

Individuals with Lyme disease do not typically have problems after antibiotic treatment. Extreme fatigue is common after treatment, but this does not usually improve with further antibiotics and there is no clear answer as to why this is. About one in every ten patients experiences chronic arthritis, and recent studies suggest that this is due to an autoimmune effect where the infection triggers the body’s immune systems to attack its own cells. Immunosuppressant medication may help relieve some of the inflammation.

Continue Reading