The Stages and Symptoms of Lyme Disease

April 13, 2018

During the warm summer months, lakeside picnics, hikes through the woods, gardening, or just swinging in a hammock can be so pleasurable. What’s not so pleasurable is the thought of sharing the great outdoors with tiny little ticks, no bigger than a sesame seed, that can land on you and attach to your skin. Although the prevalence of Lyme disease is higher in Northeast than in some other areas of the country, not all ticks cause Lyme disease and the overall risk for contracting Lyme disease is relatively low.
Lyme disease is contracted through the bite of infected deer ticks carrying a spirochete bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi). Transmission of B. burgdorferi typically requires a minimum of 24 to 48 hours of tick attachment. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “deer ticks have a four-stage life cycle (egg, larva, nymph, and adult), and the nymph ticks, about the size of a poppy seed, transmit B. burgdorferi to humans more frequently than the adult ticks.” This is most likely because larger adult deer ticks are often discovered sooner and removed more quickly from the host’s skin.
Review the various signs and symptoms associated with Lyme disease listed below. If you or a family member develop any concerning symptoms, see a visit your nearest PhysicianOne Urgent Care as soon as possible for a comprehensive evaluation.
Early Localized Disease (3-30 days after a bite)

  • A red, expanding rash or “bull’s-eye” rash (erythema migrans) at the site of a tick bite (80% of people with Lyme will develop a rash)
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Early Disseminated Disease (days to weeks after a bite)

  • Multiple erythema migrans lesions
  • Cardiac symptoms such as an unusually slow heartbeat, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Neurologic symptoms such as headaches, neck stiffness, weakness (often facial muscles), or numbness (Neurologic symptoms occur in approximately 10% or adults with untreated Lyme)

Late Disease (months to years after a bite)

  • Joint pains and arthritis, often affecting large joints, can be persistent or intermittent
  • Neurologic symptoms such as pain, difficulty with memory or thinking, and odd sensations such as numbness (Late neurologic manifestations of Lyme disease are rare)
  • Skin symptoms including nodule formation and swelling followed by thinning of the skin (Skin symptoms of late Lyme disease are more prevalent in Europe)

Post-Lyme Disease Syndrome

  • Nonspecific symptoms such as headache, fatigue, and joint pains may linger for months after the treatment for Lyme disease has ended.
  • Fibromyalgia develops in some people after treatment for Lyme disease. This is a post-infectious syndrome that is not caused by an active infection with B. burgdorferi

In most people, treatment with a two to three week course of antibiotics is very effective in eliminating symptoms, preventing progression to later manifestations of the disease, and curing the infection. Some symptoms improve rapidly with this treatment while other symptoms gradually improve over weeks to months. Receiving appropriate treatment in the earlier stages of Lyme infections improves outcomes.
Unfortunately, some people continue to have post-treatment symptoms from Lyme disease. Evidence suggests that these symptoms are likely to be caused by a patient’s autoimmune response, not an ongoing, active, B. burdorferi infection. These symptoms gradually resolve and do not require further antibiotic therapy.
Coping with Lingering Symptoms

  • Keep a daily diary of your symptoms along with a record of your diet, exercise, and sleep patterns.
  • Maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of rest.
  • Find out if there is a Lyme disease support group in your area. It can be helpful to share experiences and coping strategies with others who can truly identify with what you are going through.
  • See a healthcare provider to be evaluated for other underlying medical problems that might be causing or contributing to your symptoms.
  • Use trusted and reliable resources for accurate information on Lyme such as:

If you experience any signs of Lyme disease, you should seek an evaluation as soon as possible, especially if you’ve recently found a tick on your body. To find your nearest PhysicianOne Urgent Care facility, check out our 17 locations across New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

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