I am a consulting doctor and a health writer who has been writing online for 8 years.
Lyme disease is a tick-borne condition that is characterized by the development of a peculiar bull’s-eye-like circular rash, and other anomalies of the heart, nervous systems, skin, and joints. Lyme disease is not a contagious illness. It is caused due to infection by a spirochete bacterium which is referred to as Borrelia burgdorferi in North America, and Borrelia afzelii in Europe.
Deer ticks are primary carriers of the bacteria. The ticks transmit the pathogen into the bloodstream when feeding on human or animal blood. The circular rash characteristic of Lyme disease is medically known as erythema migrans.
In 1975, some children from Connecticut and Lyme regions were diagnosed to be affected by some form of rheumatoid arthritis. Different studies on this anomalous incidence later indicated the cause as Lyme disease, which in turn resulted from infection by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria.
Most cases of Lyme disease can be fully treated with antibiotics.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Some of the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease are listed below:
- The Lyme disease-causing bacteria get transmitted into the bloodstream after the deer ticks bite and stay attached to the skin for 36 to 48 hours. The resultant bacterial infection of the skin causes the formation of a small reddish bump on the site of the tick bite. Later, the infection tends to spread and eventually results in the development of a peculiar circular rash, wherein a clear area in the center is surrounded by a reddish ring.
- Deer ticks are tiny, just about the size of a pinhead. Therefore, most patients generally do not know about the tick bite.
- Sometimes, the Lyme disease-causing bacteria can rapidly multiply and spread to different parts of the body resulting in multiple skin rashes. Lyme disease rashes always have a ring-like circular appearance and tend to expand without any elevations or bumps. Their borders are brighter and redder than the rest of the affected area. The center of a Lyme disease rash appears healthy and clear, thereby making it resemble a bull’s eye.
- The rapid expansion of the ring-like Lyme disease rash is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as weakness, muscle and joint stiffness, fever, chills, headache, fatigue, lymph nodes inflammation, and body pain.
- The initial stages of Lyme disease can be identified by the transmission of bacterial infection, inflammation of the skin, development of the characteristic circular rash, and occurrence of flu-like symptoms. The rash may fade away after a few weeks or months. However, this may signal the onset of more severe conditions and anomalies of the joints, the heart, and the nervous system.
- Later stages of Lyme disease can result in bone joint problems such as stiffness and pain of the joints, joint inflammation and swelling, and arthritis. Joint abnormalities usually tend to become chronic and severe inflammatory.
- Patients may also be at increased risk of developing anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders.
- Problems of the nervous system such as cognitive defects, partial paralysis of the facial muscles, meningitis, and loss of memory may also be noticed.
- All instances of Lyme disease have to be immediately treated by a doctor. Untreated cases can eventually result in inflammation of the heart muscles, leading to irregular heartbeats, palpitations, and even cardiac failure.
The symptoms of Lyme disease tend to become life-threatening in the later stages of the illness. It is therefore important for patients to seek medical treatment as early as possible, for a complete recovery.
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Causes of Lyme Disease
In North America, Lyme disease is primarily caused by infection. The Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium is transmitted by the bites of deer ticks. These ticks are nearly microscopic and hence very difficult to spot.
Lyme disease-causing bacteria infection can transfer from the deer ticks only after the tick has remained attached to the skin for 36 to 48 hours. During the feeding session, the tick swells up and nearly doubles in size. One of the best ways to prevent the occurrence of Lyme disease is by removing the tick from the skin as soon as possible.
Lyme disease-causing ticks generally feed on the blood of deer, as well as birds and other animals like mice, dogs, cats, horses, etc. These ticks can also feed on human blood. They are usually found to inhabit densely wooded and grassy areas with tall bushes and shrubs. They are most prevalent in the Northeast and Midwest regions of America and most active during the summer months.
People with jobs that require prolonged activities in the outdoors and in places infested with mice are also at greater risk of getting bitten by ticks, which in turn can pose an elevated threat of developing Lyme disease.
Lyme Disease: Test and Diagnosis
The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease can mimic those elicited by other illnesses. Lyme disease-causing ticks can also transmit infections other than Lyme disease. Hence, diagnosis of Lyme disease can be quite difficult.
For patients who do not develop the characteristic Lyme disease rash, a doctor may conduct a thorough physical exam and verify their medical history and records. Patients will also be asked if they have recently visited thickly forested areas. Later, varied lab tests will be conducted to confirm a diagnosis of Lyme disease. The tests include:
- ELISA or Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test: It is the most common diagnostic test for Lyme disease. ELISA checks for the presence of antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium. However, as the test can provide false-positive results in some cases, it cannot be used as a sole diagnostic tool.
- PCR or Polymerase chain reaction: It involves the removal of fluid from an infected joint and testing it for the presence of bacterial DNA.
- Western blot test: This test is used to confirm a diagnosis of Lyme disease along with ELISA. It checks for antibodies to varied proteins of the bacterium.
Treatment of Lyme Disease
- Lyme disease in pregnant women and children younger than eight years is treated with oral antibiotics.
- Oral antibiotics such as doxycycline may be given to patients older than 8 years old.
- Severe cases of Lyme disease are treated with intravenous administration of antibiotics
- Pain killers may be prescribed to alleviate joint pain and other body aches.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.