If the recent increase in reported cases of Lyme disease has left you asking “What actually are Lyme disease symptoms?” – rest assured that you aren’t alone.
The number of reported cases of Lyme disease has doubled in recent years and the number one way to protect yourself and your family is to be aware and well-informed.
Lyme disease symptoms can vary by patient and should always be taken seriously when the possibility of tick exposure is present.
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What is Lyme Disease and How is it Contracted?
Lyme disease is the most common tickborne disease in both Europe and America. As we explained in our article on “What is Lyme Disease?” – it is caused by the bacterium Borrelia Burgderferi which is carried by black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks.
Lyme disease is one of many tickborne illnesses and diseases that can be transmitted through a tick bite. More recently, it has been uncovered that Lyme disease related bacterium can also be carried and spread by fleas, chiggers, mosquitoes and spiders, however, their ability to transmit the disease is currently unknown, with further research desperately needed .
The longer that a tick is attached, the greater the risk of tickborne illness being transmitted from an infected tick.
Not all ticks carry the bacterium and being bitten by an infected tick does not guarantee the transmission of the disease to the carrier. The sooner that a tick is removed from a host, the less likely it is to have contracted Lyme disease. The chances increase greatly between 36-48 hours after exposure . It is suggested that a tick must be attached to the host for at least 24 hours for the disease to be transmitted. If an infected tick stays attached to the source for 3-full days, the chances are of contracting the disease increase to 100%.
Lyme disease symptoms often become noticeable in the 3-30 day range following the tick bite and can become present in multiple stages or levels of sickness.
Early Localized Lyme Disease Symptoms: Stage 1
The first stage of Lyme disease symptoms is likely to become noticeable from approximately 3-14 days following a bite from an infected tick. However, it can take as long as 30 days for a carrier to notice the symptoms . This is considered early localized Lyme disease and at this point of infection, the bacterium will not have yet spread through the entire body of the individual.
The most commonly noticed Stage 1 symptom of Lyme disease is often a skin rash. It often appears to look similar to a bullseye, but this is not always the case. The rash is known as Erythema Migrans (EM) and can appear in multiple forms . It may be present close to the bite area, appear to look like a bruise, or simply appear to be a patchy red rash. It is classified as a lesion, that in many cases of Lyme disease will spread or widen over time.
While it is often only symptomatic, it can also become sore, tender, or even painful.
While other symptoms may present themselves earlier, most infected individuals don’t experience the other symptoms related to Lyme disease until the later stages when the bacteria has begun to spread.
For those who do begin to experience other symptoms early on, they are often flu-like symptoms ranging from chills, fever, muscle pain, headaches, fatigue, joint pain or inflammation and swollen lymph glands.
Early Disseminated Lyme Disease Symptoms: Stage 2
Early Disseminated Lyme disease symptoms, or Stage 2 of the symptoms, can begin to be noticeable around 2-4 weeks after the disease has been contracted. At this point, it has begun to spread throughout the body. Most symptoms in Stage 2 of Lyme disease often appear as flu-like symptoms not unlike Stage 1 and can be easily brushed off as something else. Multiple EM lesions can also occur [4,5].
It is very important to inform your health care provider if you have had a known tick bite or been exposed to ticks.
All the following are known symptoms of Early Disseminated Lyme Disease, which commonly appear within weeks of contracting the bacteria:
- Flu like symptoms, including fever, body aches, chills, fatigue, and sore muscles;
- Cranial nerve palsies, especially facial nerve palsy;
- Headaches and dizziness;
- Heart palpitations;
- Swelling and pain in joints;
- Blurry vision; and
- Swollen lymph glands.
Late Disseminated Lyme Disease Symptoms: Stage 3
Late Disseminated Lyme disease symptoms are considered to be Stage 3 symptoms, and often occur when the infected individual does not receive early treatment for Lyme disease symptoms.
Stage 3 symptoms may occur months and possibly years after the initial infection was contracted.
The many possible symptoms of Lyme disease may not all occur in the same time period and are easily ignored or diagnosed as a different illness. Throughout this time of potential mis-diagnosis, the bacteria can spread throughout the entire body.
Recurrent large-joint arthritis is the hallmark of Late Disseminated Lyme disease .
The symptoms of late disseminated Lyme disease can include all the symptoms from the early stages of Lyme disease as discussed above, in addition to:
- Arthritis of the large joints;
- Heart arrhythmia;
- Memory loss;
- Mood changes including anxiety and irritability;
- Inability to sleep;
- Mental fogginess;
- Temporary amnesia, and numbness or tingling in limbs; and
- Abnormal skin sensations such as burning.
Persistent or Chronic Lyme Disease Symptoms (or Post-Lyme Disease Syndrome):
Chronic Lyme disease is a poorly defined term, however, is generally referred to as symptoms that persist for 6-months or more following the contraction of Lyme disease . Chronic Lyme disease is also referred to as ‘Post-Lyme Disease Syndrome’ (PLDS) and now more commonly ‘Persistent Lyme Disease’, being described as persistent symptoms that continue long-term (months to years) after completing treatment for the initial Lyme disease Symptoms.
Some patients with Lyme disease have successful treatment through antibiotic therapy, however, many do find that they have long-term effects and lingering symptoms for months to years.
Many chronic Lyme disease symptoms are considered to be non-specific and are not always associated with post Lyme disease treatment. The treatment options available for those suffering from Chronic Lyme disease symptoms can often be complicated and risky.
Long term antibiotic treatment has been deliberated and some argue that it is ineffective and potentially riskier than no treatment at all . Natural therapies are an effective way to treat the disease at this late stage.
The most common symptoms of chronic Lyme disease are often associated with:
- Chronic pain;
- Neuro-cognitive symptoms,
- Behavioral symptoms, and
- Other neurological and rheumatological symptoms.
Arthritis is one of the most commonly mentioned long-term side effects of Lyme disease. This is believed to be the aftermath of the immune system turning on itself when initially trying to fight off Lyme disease symptoms, resulting in an autoimmune response.
Don’t forget that the symptoms shown by people who have contracted Lyme disease can vary significantly and each case is unique.
Use the guide above as an initial assessment of whether you may have contracted the disease and then consult an experienced medical professional to being the testing and diagnosis phase.
 McFadzean, N., 2012. Lyme Disease in Australia: Fundamentals of an Emerging Epidemic. Published by Biomed Publishing Group in the United States, October 2012, 400 pp.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Lyme Disease Advice or its staff.