Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in North America and Europe. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Deer ticks, which feed on the blood of animals and humans, can harbor the bacteria and spread it when feeding.
You're more likely to get Lyme disease if you live or spend time in grassy and heavily wooded areas where ticks carrying the disease thrive. It's important to take common-sense precautions in areas where Lyme disease is prevalent.
If you're treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of the disease, you're likely to recover completely. In later stages, response to treatment may be slower, but the majority of people with Lyme disease recover completely with appropriate treatment.
The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease vary and usually affect more than one system. The skin, joints and nervous system are affected most often.
Early signs and symptoms
Later signs and symptoms
Less common signs and symptoms
When to see a doctor
See your doctor even if symptoms disappear
Lyme disease rash
People with Lyme disease may experience a characteristic bull's-eye rash. The rash gradually spreads over a period of days and may eventually reach up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) across. ...
In the United States, Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is carried primarily by deer ticks. The ticks are brown and when young, they're often no bigger than the head of a pin, which can make them nearly impossible to spot.
To contract Lyme disease, an infected deer tick must bite you. The bacteria enter your skin through the bite and eventually make their way into your bloodstream. In most cases, to transmit Lyme disease, a deer tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours. If you find an attached tick that looks swollen, it may have fed long enough to transmit bacteria. Removing the tick as soon as possible may prevent infection.
The deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) goes through three life stages. Shown from left to right is the adult female, adult male, nymph and larva on a centimeter scale. ...
Where you live or vacation can affect your chances of getting Lyme disease. So can your profession and the type of outdoor activities you enjoy. The most common risk factors for Lyme disease include:
Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, you may be referred immediately to a rheumatologist, infectious disease specialist or other specialist.
Here's some information to help you prepare for you appointment.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions for your doctor will help you make the most of your time together. For Lyme disease, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment at any time.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
The variable signs and symptoms of Lyme disease are nonspecific and often are found in other conditions, so diagnosis can be difficult. What's more, the ticks that transmit Lyme disease also can in some cases spread other diseases at the same time.
If you don't have the characteristic Lyme disease rash, your doctor may ask detailed questions about your medical history, including whether you've been outdoors in the summer where Lyme disease is common, and do a physical exam. Lab tests to identify antibodies to the bacteria may be used to help confirm the diagnosis. These tests are most reliable a few weeks after an infection, after your body has time to develop antibodies. They include:
Treatments and drugs
Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease. In general, recovery will be quicker and more complete the sooner treatment begins.
After treatment, a small number of people still experience some symptoms, such as muscle aches and fatigue. The cause of these continuing symptoms is unknown, and treating with more antibiotics doesn't help. Some experts believe that certain people who get Lyme disease are predisposed to develop an autoimmune response that contributes to their symptoms. More research is needed.
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid areas where deer ticks live, especially wooded, bushy areas with long grass. You can decrease your risk of getting Lyme disease with some simple precautions:
Last Updated: 2012-10-03
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