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Lyme Disease

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Lyme Disease

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Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease caused by the bacteria Borrelia. Read the article for more information about the same.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Patil Pratik Pramod

Published At June 8, 2019
Reviewed AtApril 21, 2023


Lyme disease, otherwise called Lyme borreliosis, is a vector-borne disease caused by the bacteria Borrelia. It was first reported in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut in 1975, hence the name. If left untreated, this disease can affect various tissues in the body and cause various symptoms, which can last for several months or even years. Laboratory testing is useful when used properly and with validated methods. Most people with Lyme disease can get better after taking antibiotics for a few weeks. Using insect repellent, removing ticks as soon as possible, using pesticides, and other measures can help avoid Lyme disease.

What Causes Lyme Disease?

The four main species that cause this disease are Borrelia burgdorferi, mayonii, afzelii, and garinii. It is spread to humans by the bite of an infected deer tick (black-legged tick). 7 to 14 days after the tick bite, an erythema migrans (EM) rash appears on the skin. The tick deposits the bacteria when it bites humans and animals. People with pets who spend a lot of time in the woods are more susceptible.

What Are the Stages of Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease usually occurs in three stages:

Stage 1 - Early localized stage.

Stage 2 - Early disseminated stage.

Stage 3 - Late disseminated stage.

What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?

The symptoms vary depending on the stage of the disease.

1) Early Localized Stage (Acute): The symptoms starts a couple of weeks after the tick bite.

  • Red solid rash or bulls-eye rash (erythema migrans) after 30 days at the site of the bite or other areas.

  • Malaise.

  • Fever.

  • Chills.

  • Headache.

  • Swelling of the lymph node near the bite.

2) Early Disseminated Stage: Occurs a few weeks after the tick bite.

  • 2 or 3 erythema migrans other than the site of the bite.

  • Migrating pain in the joints.

  • Facial palsy.

  • Neck stiffness.

  • Tingling sensation in hands and legs.

  • More than one enlarged lymph nodes.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Sore throat.

  • Fever more than 101℉.

  • Vision changes.

  • Fatigue.

  • Abnormal pulse.

3) Late Disseminated Stage: This stage occurs after some weeks to years when the infection is left untreated.

What Are the Risk Factors?

The factors that increases the risk of getting infected with Lyme disease are:

  • Spending more time in wooded or grassy areas.

  • Wearing clothes that do not cover the body completely.

  • Failure to remove the ticks properly.

  • Letting dogs and other pets wander in the open.

How Is Lyme Disease Diagnosed?

The signs and symptoms that are seen in this disease are not very specific, as such symptoms can be seen with other diseases also. So if the doctor suspects this illness, he or she might take a complete history which might include the time spent by the patient outside in summers. After performing physical examinations, the doctor might suggest the following tests:

  • ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay) Test - This detects the presence of antibodies against Borrelia bacteria. As this test can provide false-positive, and the antibodies might not be detected during the early stages, it is not used exclusively for diagnosing this condition.

  • Western Blot Test - This test is done if the ELISA test is positive. The western blot test detects antibodies to many proteins of Borrelia bacteria.

How Is Lyme Disease Treated?

Lyme disease is treated with the help of antibiotics. The sooner the treatment is started, quicker will be the recovery. The antibiotics used are:

  • Oral Antibiotics - Doxycycline, Amoxicillin, or Cefuroxime is used for 14 to 21 days during the early stage of this disease.

  • Intravenous Antibiotics - Antibiotics are given intravenously if your central nervous system is affected.

What Are the Complications of Lyme Disease?

If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to the following complications:

  1. Lyme arthritis - Joint inflammation.

  2. Facial palsy.

  3. Neuropathy - Nerve pain.

  4. Memory problems.

  5. Heart arrhythmias.

When to See a Doctor?

Not all tick bites lead to Lyme disease, but it is only caused when an infected tick bites you. The risk increases when the tick remains attached to your skin longer (more than 36 to 48 hours). Get immediate medical help if you develop any of the above symptoms after a tick bite, as the treatment is more effective when started early.

What to Look for When a Tick Bites?

Tick bites are usually painless and go unnoticed as they are the size of a poppy seed. So whenever one goes out camping or spends time walking in woods or tall grass areas, check oneself and the pets and clothes for ticks. Examine carefully under the shower after taking off one’s clothes.

How to Remove a Tick Properly?

As soon as a tick is spotted, carefully remove it with a fine-tipped tweezer, which will be available in a pharmacy. With the help of the tweezer, grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and while applying a steady pressure pull the tick upwards. Remove all the parts of the tick left under the skin and wipe the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Place the removed tick in soapy water or alcohol, stick it to a tape, or flush it down the toilet.

How Can Lyme Disease Be Prevented?

One can avoid getting bitten by ticks by following these steps:

  • Wear a full-sleeved shirt, long pants, hat, and gloves when going out in wooded or grassy areas.

  • Apply insect repellents.

  • Check the clothes, pets, and children for ticks after one spends time in wooded or grassy areas.

  • As soon as a tick is spotted, remove it with the help of a tweezer.


The borrelia bacteria are the source of Lyme disease. Typically, a tick harboring the Lyme disease bacteria will bite a human and transmit the illness. If one spends time in areas where ticks thrive, such as grassy, brushy, or forested areas, one runs the risk of contracting Lyme disease. Lyme disease risk can be decreased in these places by taking safety precautions.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the 3 Stages of Lyme Disease?

Lymes disease is one of the groups of infectious diseases. It usually occurs in three stages. The stages are early localized, early disseminated, and late disseminated. The stages do not occur exactly in the same fashion in all patients. Symptoms tend to overlap. A bulls-eye rash is one of the earliest signs of Lymes disease. But it is not compulsory that all patients will present with this rash.


How Do You Feel When You Have Lyme Disease?

Once the person is affected with Lymes disease, the various symptoms that the person will present are fever, headache, fatigue, weakness, and a typical skin rash. This skin rash is called the erythema migrans. Erythema migrans is initially diagnosed with the help of the clinical presentation of the patient and also the exposure of ticks. It can be elicited from a thorough history taking.


What Happens If You Go Untreated for Lyme Disease?

Adequate medical management is necessary to treat Lyme disease. If left untreated, the disease mainly complicates the skeletal system causing arthritis, the nervous system, and the cardiovascular system. The symptoms expressed by untreated Lymes disease is known as Greene’s symptoms. In this scenario, the patient experiences severe neck pain, headache, arthritis, and in rare cases, facial palsy might also occur.


What Is the Most Accurate Test for Lyme Disease?

When a person is infected with Lymes disease, the body requires a certain time duration to develop antibodies against the disease. So, to confirm the infection, it takes a few weeks. The most reliable test to confirm the Lymes disease infection is known as the Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).


How Fast Does Lyme Disease Spread?

Lymes disease is spread from the bite of an infected deer ticks to humans. The disease can be prevented if the tick is removed from the body as soon as possible. Infection can spread in a period of 36- 48 hours. However, the incubation period of the disease is three days to thirty days. Many individuals start presenting with the symptoms even before 30 days. The first symptom that is seen usually is the erythema migrans rash.


What Type of Ticks Carry Lyme Disease?

The type of tick that spreads Lyme disease is known as Ixodes scapularis. It is commonly known as the deer ticks. Based on the tick’s appearance, it is named as the black-legged tick. They are more commonly found in the eastern and western parts of the U.S.


What Foods Should Be Avoided With Lyme Disease?

There is a list of foods that are supposed to be avoided in Lymes disease. They are sugar, processed meat, seed, vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates, gluten and dairy products, non- starchy vegetables, and fatty fish items.


How Serious Is Lyme Disease?

Lymes disease on proper treatment has a good prognosis. But if there is no medical care provided, Lymes disease can affect the skeletal, nervous, and cardiac system and cause complications. The complication could develop over the years and also will withstand over the years.


Is Lyme Disease Genetic?

Lymes disease comes under the category of infectious diseases. It is usually acquired only by the bite of a deer tick. It can not be contracted by genetic inheritance. However, genetic inheritance can influence the severity and complications of the disease.


What Organs Can Be Affected by Lyme Disease?

Lymes disease is popularly known as a great imitator. It is called so because it imitates the disease presentation of so many other diseases. It includes the skeletal, nervous, and cardiovascular system. Thus, the main organ system affected is the skeletal system, which presents with arthritis. The cardiovascular system presents with heart palpitations, fainting, chest pain, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness. The nervous symptoms of Lymes disease are numbness, pain, weakness, Bell’s palsy, fever, and stiff neck, etc.,


Where Does Lyme Disease Rash Appear?

The symptoms start to appear from a few days to a few weeks after the tick bite. The earliest symptom of the disease is a characteristic skin rash that is known as erythema migrans. It occurs on the back, groin, armpit (axilla), and the lower leg regions. The rash looks like the bull’s eye.


Is Lyme Sexually Transmittable?

There is no current evidence that Lymes disease is sexually transmitted. But, for a long time, it was thought that Lymes disease was sexually transmitted since the bacteria typically looked like the bacteria that causes syphilis. There are no proper evidence to show that it is transmitted through the sexual route.


Does Lyme Disease Affect Teeth?

In Lymes disease, the bacteria reside in the mouth for a certain duration of time. During that period, bacteria cause damage to dental issues. The dental manifestations of the disease are tooth pain, but it might also cause dental caries. Lymes disease is often misdiagnosed for other dental problems and mistreated with procedures like root canal treatment. If you are suffering from pain, then consult your doctor immediately.


How Many People Die a Year From Lyme?

Many people who are infected with Lymes disease do not die with proper treatment. Mortality occurs only when there is no treatment or when the condition is misdiagnosed. According to CDC reports, the mortality rate of Lymes disease is just 0.6% only.


Does Lyme Disease Affect Your Lungs?

There are very few noted respiratory symptoms noted in Lymes disease patients. The primary respiratory symptom is shortness of breath or dyspnea. It commonly affects the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and nervous systems only.


Can Lyme Disease Change Your Personality?

Yes, Lymes disease can cause moderate to severe changes in personality. The moderate personality changes in the affected individual are frustration, reduced tolerance, irritability, depression, and rarely cognitive symptoms can also occur. In very few individuals, severe symptoms like suicidal and very aggressive tendencies are noted.


Can Someone Be Immune to Lyme Disease?

No, A previous infection of Lymes disease infection can not prevent a person from acquiring infection of the same disease in consecutive years. So avoiding deer tick infection is one of the common ways to prevent the disease. In case of infection, early and proper medical care is important to avoid further complications.


Can Stress Make Lyme Worse?

One of the most important and common reasons for relapse of Lymes disease is Stress. Stress can cause acute flare-ups of the disease. It can affect an individual's routine activities. This is a part of post-treatment Lymes disease.


Do Mosquitoes Carry Lyme Disease?

Lymes disease is not spread to any other modes of transmission except a deer tick bite. There is no proven evidence of air, food-borne, water, and mosquito transmissions. It can not be transmitted to fleas, flies, or mice also.


Can Garlic Kill Lyme Disease?

The recent development of studies has proved that garlic oil can kill the bacteria causing Lymes disease. It has been found that garlic oil helped to kill isolated bacteria of Lymes disease. Thus, apart from antibiotic treatment, eating garlic can also help in curing the disease to a certain extent.


How Do You Beat Lyme Disease Naturally?

Lymes disease can also be treated with natural health supplements like Vitamin B1, Vitamin C, fish oil, alpha-lipoic acid, magnesium-rich foods, and, most importantly, garlic. But the efficiency of home remedies is not fully identified.


Can You Beat Lyme Disease Without Antibiotics?

There are chances that some people can recover from the disease automatically in four to six weeks without proper antibiotic treatment. But, that can not be done all the time in all the patients. Thus, proper medical consultation with a doctor is always important. Self-medicating antibiotics are highly contraindicated as it might lead to antibiotic resistance in patients.


Can Lyme Cause Mental Illness?


Can Lyme Cause Mental Illness?

When complications occur due to poor treatment, the affected individual usually presents with neural symptoms like encephalopathy or encephalomyelitis. This might lead to a series of mental illnesses that could be mania, dementia, paranoia, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, etc. In these individuals, additional to antibiotic treatment against Lymes disease, psychiatric treatment might also be needed.
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Dr. Patil Pratik Pramod
Dr. Patil Pratik Pramod

Medical oncology


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