What is Lyme disease?

When you are bitten by a tick carrying bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, you're at risk for developing Lyme disease. This condition can have very serious symptoms that cause pain all around your body. But, early treatment can be very effective.

There are about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease reported to the CDC every year, but officials believe there may be even 10 times that number. It's important to prevent the disease. You can do this by wearing insect repellent before going into grassy, bushy areas where ticks live. After camping, hiking or even walking the dog, check yourself, your gear and your animals for ticks. Shower as soon as possible.

Causes of Lyme disease

A few different strains of bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi are what cause Lyme disease. Certain types of ticks typically carry the bacteria. When one of these infected ticks bites you, they can transmit the bacteria to you. Factors that contribute to Lyme disease include:

  • Not using insect repellent with active ingredients such as DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus
  • Going off trail or in wooded and areas with high grass
  • Letting ticks remain on your body 

Risk factors for Lyme disease

Many people have ticks in their yards. Creating a tick-safe zone can reduce your risk of getting tick bites. Clear a section of your yard of tall grasses. Put a 36-inch border of wood chips or gravel between the yard and any nearby wooded areas. These can stop ticks from moving into areas near your home. Be sure to mow your yard regularly. Remove old furniture and stack wood in a dry area to repel rodents, which ticks feed on. Not taking these steps puts you at risk of coming into contact with ticks.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

Symptoms can appear within a few days of the tick bite. You may develop a fever, chills, fatigue, muscle aches and sore joints. Many people also develop a bull's eye-shaped rash known as Erythema migrans. It spreads gradually and may feel warm to the touch.

Other symptoms include:

  • A droop or loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of your face
  • Severe headaches and stiffness in the neck or joints
  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • An irregular heartbeat

Diagnosis of Lyme disease

If you have symptoms, your doctor orders a two-part process to diagnose Lyme disease. The two parts of the blood test happen at the same time. It's designed to limit the chances of getting incorrect results. You may not know that a tick bit you. These bugs are about the size of a poppy seed. A history of tick exposure is part of the diagnosis process. So, your doctor may ask where you've traveled or whether you've been spending lots of time outdoors.

Treatments for Lyme disease

The earlier you can have your Lyme disease diagnosed and treated, the faster the infection can heal. It can take two to three weeks for most signs and symptoms of the infection to disappear. You can take different medications based on whether you were just diagnosed or if your Lyme disease symptoms have lasted a long time.

Bacteria cause Lyme disease. So, antibiotics are a common treatment. You can take them as pills. You may need antibiotics via IV. At your doctor's office or a hospital, the doctor can put the medicine directly into your veins. This is more likely if your Lyme disease has lasted a long time.

People with Lyme disease often report joint pain and some other symptoms continuing even after the infection is gone. Extended symptoms are more likely if you're at risk for an autoimmune disease.

Recovery from Lyme disease

Your symptoms and the infection may disappear within a month of treatment. However, you may still experience symptoms after treatment. If that happens, let your doctor know right away. They can figure out a different treatment to try.

It's important to continue prevention after having Lyme disease. Check yourself each time you leave the woods or areas where ticks may be. Always look in the following places for ticks: hairline, armpits, inside and behind ears, back of neck, inside belly button, around the waistline, in the groin area, on legs, behind the knees and in between your toes.

If you find a tick, put it in in soapy water or alcohol. Stick it to a piece of tape or flush it down the toilet.