Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi and is usually spread by ticks. However, it’s important to note that not all ticks carry the disease. Ixodes ticks are the most common kind to carry Lyme, but black-legged ticks also spread it on the West Coast. Depending on the habitat, the types of wildlife, and other factors, tick infection rates can be anywhere from 0% to 70%. Lyme disease exists not only throughout the United States, but also in over sixty other countries.
You can contract Lyme disease no matter what age you are. According to the CDC, it’s more common in children and older adults whose immune systems may be less equipped to fight off infection, but teenagers and young adults are also able to get it.
The symptoms of Lyme disease often mimic those of other conditions and diseases, making it easy to overlook at first. Therefore, if you suspect you may have Lyme, it’s important to talk to a professional for an accurate diagnosis. Here are the ten most common Lyme symptoms to watch out for:
1. Bull’s Eye Rash
This rash is probably the best well-known symptom of Lyme disease. These rashes have a “bull’s eye” shape that’s centered over the site of the tick bite, are very large, and can be extremely painful.
Bull’s eye rashes are actually far less common than you might think — only about 10 percent of people who contract Lyme disease will develop them. However, this symptom is a definite sign of Lyme disease, and if you have one, you should seek medical attention immediately.
2. Regular Rash
Although only 10 percent of people get bull’s eye rashes, somewhere between 40 and 80 percent of people get regular rashes. The true number is unknown, as it is unethical to infect human subjects with Lyme disease just to see whether or not they get a rash.
The rash itself can take several days or even weeks to develop after you’re bitten. It starts small, but quickly expands to an area with a diameter of several inches during a period of days or weeks. If left untreated, it can last for weeks before it fades, and it may even come back after fading. The rash may resemble that caused by a spider bite, ringworm, or cellulitis.
3. Flu-Like Symptoms
Lyme disease often feels just like the flu in its early stages. Headaches, fatigue, fever, and sore muscles are all common symptoms that, unfortunately, are easily overlooked.
4. Gastrointestinal Symptoms
Children and teenagers who get Lyme disease may experience symptoms in their stomach or intestines. Heartburn, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea are all indicators of potential Lyme disease. Often, these symptoms manifest themselves in a way that mimics Crohn’s disease or colitis. Their gut bacteria levels may also be thrown out of whack.
As these symptoms can be caused by multiple diseases ranging from serious to benign, it’s important to go to a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.
5. Psychiatric Symptoms
Neuropsychiatric Lyme disease is one of the more advanced and more serious stages of the infection. A few symptoms you may notice are irritability, anxiety, and an increased level of emotions. It’s possible for you to experience paranoia, symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder, or even hallucinations. Often, these symptoms must be treated separately from Lyme disease.
6. Sleep Disturbances
You may experience either an inability to sleep or an increased need for sleep. Many people find that they suddenly need to take naps where they didn’t have to before. At the same time, Lyme disease can keep you awake no matter how tired you are. Of course, this leads to sleep deprivation and can detrimentally affect your quality of life. Not all insomnia is caused by Lyme disease, of course, but it is one of the major symptoms.
7. Muscle and Joint Pain
One of the earlier symptoms, often occurring in less than a month after the tick bite, muscle and joint aches can often signify that you have Lyme disease. In more advanced stages, the symptoms can mimic arthritis, with severe pain and swelling. It is most common for this to occur in the knees and other large joints, but it can happen throughout your body.
8. Bell’s Palsy
Bell’s palsy is a type of facial paralysis. It only affects one side of the face at a time, and can come on very suddenly–sometimes overnight. Although Bell’s palsy can be caused by a variety of things, including shingles, ear infections, and the herpes simplex 1 virus, it can often be a sign of Lyme disease.
It can take several weeks to several months to completely recover from a bout of Bell’s palsy. However, the paralysis’ peak usually occurs within a few days after you first notice signs. If you experience Bell’s palsy of any strength, it is highly recommended for you to go to the doctor to discover its cause.
9. Lyme carditis
Lyme carditis is caused when Borrelia burgdorferi reaches the heart. The bacteria can interfere with the electrical signals which cause the heart to beat, causing “heart block.” Heart block caused by Lyme carditis can get worse very quickly, meaning it’s important to seek help as soon as you notice that something is wrong.
Symptoms of Lyme carditis include heart palpitations, chest pain, and light-headedness. Although only one percent of Lyme disease patients get Lyme carditis, it can be lethal and as such, if you think you have Lyme disease, you should keep an eye out for it.
Peripheral neuropathy happens when the Lyme disease bacteria have attacked the nerves which carry messages to and from the brain and spinal cord. Usually, nerve damage in specific locations will affect specific areas of the body. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include pain, a lack of feeling or sensation in your arms and legs, and an inability to move.
Unfortunately, doctors are currently unable to cure peripheral neuropathy, although it is possible to keep it from getting worse. Fortunately, it only happens at the more advanced stages of Lyme disease, meaning that if you catch it early enough you can avoid permanent damage. Furthermore, there are a number of treatments which can help you manage your symptoms, such as oral doxycycline and amoxicillin.