The first symptom of Lyme disease (also called Lyme’s disease) for about 50% of people is a small, red bull’s-eye rash, called erythema migrans, at the site of an infected tick bite. The rash usually appears a week or two after a painless bite, but can appear within 3 to 30 days. It typically spreads or may show up in other areas. It can also not look like a bull’s eye. And if the tick rash is very small and in a hairy place, it may never be noticed.
Other early, acute symptoms are flu-like – fatigue, achy muscles or joints, fever, chills, stiff neck, swollen glands, and a headache. Most doctors base their diagnosis of early Lyme primarily on the rash and accompanying symptoms. There are blood tests, many of which return erroneous results. We’ll have more to say about testing soon.
If Lyme is identified in this early stage and treated with an appropriate course of antibiotics, it usually goes away. Treatment, however, doesn’t provide immunity; you can get the disease again if another infected tick bites you. There is no vaccine.
It would be great if Lyme got caught early and treated in everyone who has it. But it’s a very tricky illness.
Some people with classic early symptoms never get treated because they either don’t go to their doctor or their doctor doesn’t suspect it. Some doctors do diagnose it but don’t treat it long enough. And some infected people never get any early symptoms.
Lyme is often hard to diagnose because many symptoms are non-specific (stiff neck, fever, tingling and numbness, headache, lack of energy, weakness, moodiness, or achiness). Also, many doctors don’t know much about the disease or don’t believe that it’s a prevalent illness, especially in areas that aren’t known to be habitats for the Ixodes ticks that carry it.
Without treatment, the illness eventually becomes more debilitating.
Untreated, the bacteria can lie dormant and appear months or even years later. Chronic Lyme mimics the symptoms of over 350 diseases, including multiple sclerosis, lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Parkinson’s. Sadly, many people with chronic, late-stage Lyme spend years and substantial sums of money being treated for other diseases before finally learning that they have it.
Most people chronically ill with Lyme have a combination of symptoms, compounded by the symptoms of other co-infections they may have. No two patients have exactly the same complaints.
The spirochetes travel from the site of the bite to anywhere in the body via the skin, lymph system, and blood. They can ultimately cause problems in all body systems.
Here’s a plain-English list of common symptoms:
Brain and Central Nervous System: migraines, dizziness, brain fog, poor memory, poor sleep, lack of verbal fluency, confusion or disorientation, decreased ability to concentrate, facial nerve tics or paralysis, sore jaw, sinusitis, mood swings, difficulty chewing or swallowing, sore throat, hoarseness, muscle twitches, numbness and tingling, shooting pains, and lower back or neck pain. Lyme has also been found to mimic all the psychiatric disorders.
Muscles, joints, and bones: pains that come and go (with or without swelling), cramps, stiffness.
Circulation: too fast or two slow heart rate, irregular heartbeat (palpitations), inflammation of the heart muscle or arteries, and chest pain.
Breathing: sinusitis, difficulty breathing, and pneumonias.
Skin: rashes, itching, crawling sensations, benign cysts and nodules, and skin discoloration.
Eyes: pain, inflammation, blurred or double vision, retinal damage, floaters, flashing lights, light sensitivity, dry eye, and blindness.
Ears: itching, earache, buzzing, ringing, and sound sensitivity.
Digestive tract: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, mild liver function abnormalities, and spleen tenderness and enlargement.
Genitourinary tract: inflammation of the urethra and bladder, pelvic pain, testicular pain, and loss of sexual desire.
General: tiredness, lack of stamina, fever, vague discomfort, irritability, nervousness or anxiety, and weight loss or gain.
Borrelia is a brilliant bacterium that can avoid detection by the body’s immune system by changing shape, becoming cell-wall deficient (living inside red blood cells) or encysting over with albumin, which antibiotics can’t reach, and hiding out in a dormant state in hard to reach places like the spaces between ligaments and bones.
If you suspect your or someone you know has Lyme, you should find a doctor who knows how to diagnose it correctly and treat it adequately if you have it. The earlier you get treatment, the better.
Lyme is not just another little infection that goes away in a week or two; people have died from it.
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