Key Points about Lyme Disease (Borreliosis)

  • Lyme disease occurs when a deer tick carrying certain bacteria remains attached to the body for 36 to 48 hours.
  • Lyme disease can cause serious, long-term complications, if not effectively and quickly treated.
  • Doctors diagnose Lyme disease with blood tests.
  • You can reduce your risk for contracting Lyme disease by checking your body carefully and thoroughly for ticks after spending time outside in heavily wooded or grassy areas.

Overview 

Lyme disease is a condition that is caused by two strains of bacteria in the United States. Deer ticks – which can be as small as a poppy seed – transmit these bacteria. If not properly treated, Lyme disease can lead to serious complications, including chronic joint inflammation (swelling), impaired memory and heart rhythm problems.

Lyme disease causes 

Being bitten by a deer tick that is carrying certain strains of bacteria causes Lyme disease. Typically, to contract Lyme disease, a deer tick will need to be attached to your skin for 36 to 48 hours. Therefore, if you’ve spent time in woodsy areas, you should check yourself and others carefully for ticks and remove them as soon as possible.

Lyme disease risk factors

Factors that put you at an increased risk for developing Lyme disease include:

  • Having exposed skin while outdoors
  • Living in the Northeast and Midwest of the United States
  • Not quickly locating and removing ticks 
  • Spending time in heavily wooded or grassy areas
  • Working in an outdoor occupation

Lyme disease symptoms

Soon after you’re bitten by the deer tick carrying a bacteria that causes Lyme disease, you will notice a small, red bump that looks similar to a mosquito bite. About a month after the deer tick has bitten you, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Body aches
  • Bull’s-eye pattern rash that can spread up to 12 inches across and is not typically itchy or painful, but may feel warm
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Swollen lymph nodes

If the Lyme disease isn’t treated, you may experience these signs and symptoms in the weeks or months following the deer tick bite:

  • Bell’s palsy (temporary paralysis of one side of the face)
  • Joint pain, especially in the knees
  • Numbness or weakness in the limbs
  • Trouble moving your muscles

Lyme disease diagnosis

You may need to undergo one or more of the following tests to diagnose Lyme disease:

Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test. Your doctor may use this test to check for antibodies that develop in your body in response to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. This test can sometimes produce false-positive results, so you may need to undergo additional testing.

Western blot test. If your ELISA test comes back positive, your doctor may use this test to double-check the results and further check for antibodies in your body.

Lyme disease treatment

Treatment for Lyme disease involves antibiotic medication. If Lyme disease is in its early stages, you will likely take oral (by mouth) antibiotics for up to 21 days. If Lyme has become advanced or involves the central nervous system, you will need to receive antibiotic medication intravenously (by IV). Even with effective treatment, you may experience long-term symptoms related to Lyme disease.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a rheumatologist for more specialized treatment.