What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infection that is spread by ticks. You can get Lyme disease if you are bitten by an infected tick. But most people who have had a tick bite don't get Lyme disease. It's still important to see your doctor if you have a tick attached to you that you can't remove.
Lyme disease is common in the United States. It can also be found in Canada, Europe, and Asia.
What causes Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria. Infected ticks spread the bacteria by biting people or animals.
Two types of ticks carry the Lyme disease bacteria in the U.S. They are:
- Reference Deer ticks Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window. They spread the disease in the Northeast and Midwest.
- Reference Western black-legged ticks Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window. They spread the disease along the Pacific coast, mostly in northern California and Oregon.
What are the symptoms?
Flu-like symptoms are also common. People in the early stages of Lyme disease may feel very tired and have headaches, sore muscles and joints, and a fever.
These symptoms can start at any time, from 3 days to up to a month after you have been bitten. Some people don't have any symptoms when they are in the early stages of Lyme disease. And they may not even remember getting a tick bite.
If Lyme disease goes untreated, you can have more serious symptoms over time. These include:
- Swelling and joint pain (like Reference arthritis Opens New Window).
- Tingling and numbness in your hands, feet, and back.
- A lack of energy that does not get better.
- Trouble focusing your thoughts.
- Poor memory.
- Weakness or Reference paralysis Opens New Window in your face muscles.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. Your doctor will also ask about your activities to try to find out if you have been around infected ticks. You may have a blood test to see if you have certain Reference antibodies Opens New Window in your blood that could mean you have the disease.
How is it treated?
The main treatment for Lyme disease is Reference antibiotics Opens New Window. These medicines usually cure Lyme disease within 3 weeks of starting treatment.
It's important to get treatment for Lyme disease as soon as you can. If it goes untreated, Lyme disease can lead to problems with your skin, joints, nervous system, and heart. These can occur weeks, months, or even years after your tick bite. The problems often get better with antibiotics, but in rare cases they can last the rest of your life.
Can you prevent Lyme disease?
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to protect yourself from ticks. Cover up as much skin as you can when you're going to be in wooded or grassy areas. Wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants with the legs tucked into your socks. And keep in mind that it's easier to see ticks on light-colored clothes.
Use a bug repellent that has a chemical (such as DEET, IR3535, or Picaridin) to keep away ticks. Check your pets for ticks after they've been outside. You can't get Lyme disease from your pet. But your pet can bring infected ticks inside. These ticks can fall off your pet and attach to you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about Lyme disease:
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference August 21, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Reference Christine Hahn, MD - Epidemiology