What Is "Chronic Lyme Disease"?

"Chronic Lyme Disease" Is Not a Medical Condition

Health-Chronic-Lyme Disease. Credit: Chicago Tribune / Contributor / Getty Images

The term "chronic Lyme disease" is not a medical term a health care professional would use in a medical setting to describe a Lyme disease patient's condition. However, the general public typically, and erroneously, uses it to describe symptoms in patients who have the medical condition post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS).

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is is the most common tick-borne infection in the northern hemisphere.

It's caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi or Borrelia mayonii. These bacteria thrive inside of certain ticks and spread to humans when an infected one bites you.

There are three stages of Lyme disease:

  1. early localized stage
  2. early disseminated stage
  3. late stage

Consequences of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is complex and causes various symptoms to develop, depending on the stage of the infection:

  • A skin lesion known as erythema migrans is the most common symptom associated with early-stage Lyme disease.
  • There can be neurologic, cardiac, and arthritic problems that develop in later stages of Lyme disease.
  • Pauciarticular arthritis (affecting 4 or fewer joints) is the most common problem associated with late-stage Lyme disease.

Lyme Disease Treatment

Once you test positive for the Lyme disease infection, the specifics of Lyme disease treatment depends on the case. If you're in the early stage, a short course of antibiotics, including doxycycline or amoxicillin, cures the majority of cases.

Successful treatment for more complicated cases requires three to four weeks of antibiotic therapy.

Your health care professional knows when you've beat the infection because tests will show the offending bacteria is no longer in your system.

Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome

Post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome or post-Lyme disease syndrome are medical terms used to describe patients who continue to have symptoms after completing Lyme disease treatment.


Unfortunately, some patients who have no evidence of active infection still have symptoms that severely impair their overall physical health and quality of life. The medical term for these patients is PTLDS and not "chronic Lyme disease." Symptoms include:

  • persistent pain
  • impaired cognitive function
  • unexplained numbness

Treatment for Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases takes PTLDS seriously and funded three placebo-controlled clinical trials to discover the efficacy of prolonged antibiotic therapy:

  • In the first trial, patients received 30 days of intravenous (IV) antibiotic followed by 60 days of oral antibiotic. There was no evidence the treatment is beneficial.
  • In the second trial, patients received 28 days of IV antibiotic. Patients reported overall improvement, but there were no benefits for cognitive function and six participants had serious adverse events associated with the antibiotic treatment, four required hospitalization. Researchers concluded, "additional antibiotic therapy for PTLDS was not supported by the evidence."
  • In the third study, patients with objective memory impairment received 10 weeks of IV ceftriaxone, a cephalosporin antibiotic, and 26 percent had an adverse reaction. Researchers concluded the treatment was not an effective strategy.

    The NIAID is looking at supporting more research to find a reason for PTLDS and effective treatments, especially regarding if remnants of the bacteria remain after treatment.


    A Critical Appraisal of "Chronic Lyme Disease". New England Journal of Medicine. October 4, 2007. Feder FM et al.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: New Lyme-Disease-Causing Bacteria Species Discovered (2016)

    Late and Chronic Lyme Disease: Symptom Overlap With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Fibromyalgia. ProHealth. Sam Donta MD. May 15, 2002.

    National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases: "Chronic Lyme Disease" (2015)