Ignore Lyme Disease Symptoms and You Could Risk Severe Complications

In certain regions of the United States, Lyme disease has become endemic. Which Lyme disease symptoms can tell you that you may be infected?

lyme disease

Lyme disease, transmitted via ticks feeding on blood after attaching to the skin of a host, can become serious if not treated quickly (see diagram below).

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Lyme disease is an infection spread by blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that about 329,000 Americans contract the condition each year. While Lyme disease symptoms aren’t necessarily serious, ignoring them could compromise your health and cause serious complications.

To protect yourself, stay alert for these Lyme disease symptoms:

  • A non-itchy, bullseye-shaped rash that develops around the tick bite within three to 30 days (the average is seven days). But don’t count on this symptom to alert you to the fact you’ve been bitten by a tick; some 20 percent of the people with a tick bite don’t develop the rash.
  • Flu-like symptoms—typically fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headaches, fever, and chills.

SHOULD A TICK BITE = AN ER VISIT?

Dr. James Bregman—an Emergency Department physician in New York City—takes on that question in our post “Tick-Bite Tale from the ER: ‘Doctor, There’s a Seed Attached to Me!.’”

Lyme Disease: On the Rise

Over the past few decades, there has been an overall increase in the number of ticks carrying Lyme disease. In 1998, disease-carrying ticks were present in 30 percent of counties in the U.S., but data released by the CDC in 2015 indicated that they’re now present in almost half of U.S. counties.

“This study shows that the distribution of Lyme disease vectors has changed substantially over the last nearly two decades,” says study leader Dr. Rebecca Eisen, a research biologist at the CDC. “[It also] highlights areas where risk for human exposure to ticks has changed during that time.”

lyme disease

[Photo: © Designua | Dreamstime.com]

It’s particularly important to stay alert for Lyme disease symptoms if you live in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and southern regions. In these areas, reforestation has led to a boom in the deer population. (See also our post “Lyme Disease: Prevention Is Key.”)

Climate change also may be a factor, since the ticks that carry Lyme disease thrive in warm, damp conditions. If you live in town, keep in mind that parks and green belt areas with long grass and streams also support deer, so ticks are likely to be present in these areas.

You’re especially vulnerable to Lyme disease symptoms if you live in the northeast, likely because the northeastern variety of tick is more active in seeking out hosts to bite.

Tick Bites: Stay Alert!

If you develop Lyme disease, the infection can affect any body system with potential complications including arthritis, facial paralysis, meningitis, nerve pain, and impaired memory. These side effects can occur months or even years after you were bitten. Less common complications include an irregular heart rate and inflammation of the eyes and/or liver.

Rarely, a condition called babesiosis may develop from other pathogens carried by ticks. Babesiosis causes a type of anemia and can result in organ failure. It can be fatal in older adults and people who are immune-suppressed (for example, people being treated for cancer, AIDS, and auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis).


Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.

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Kate Brophy

Kate Brophy is an experienced health writer and editor with a long career in the UK and United States. Kate has been Executive Editor of the Icahn School of Medicine … Read More

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  • My 2nd bullseye rash (EM rash) developed within hours after I removed a tick that lodged herself on me for less than a few hours, I was alerted to her presence due to the itch her bite caused. I got rid of any slight initial symptoms within days just using herbal, nutritional and homeopathic remedies. The tissue repair at the bite site (rash) took about 2 months.

    My first recovery from Lyme took me much longer as I could not believe this Lyme symptomatic rash indicated Lyme Disease since it clearly developed at and after a mosquito bite I instantly cared for topically as best I knew at that time. We were confused interpreting this clear bullseye rash by the message the CDC still insists on that only ticks transfer Lyme pathogens (thank you CDC, for this misinformation!). After my body continued to ‘break’, the problem was officially diagnosed as Lyme Disease and I was sent away with 3 weeks of antibiotics. To protect my gut biome I increased my already high intake of probiotic foods, added appropriate supplements and gentle detoxification. I also added herbs that fit my changing symptoms.

    It took at least 1.5 years to recover from this 1st infection as we didn’t realize the problem as what it was (thanks again, CDC). I do not believe the antibiotics alone would have been able to get me over this first infection. Only the addition of natural, mostly herbal, dietary and homeopathic approaches, which in the end included acupuncture, allowed full recovery. The 1st EM rash took about 2 years to be repaired.

    The CDC should stop telling people Lyme pathogens can only be transmitted by ticks. Patients should emphasize natural and dietary approaches to help recovery from this disease, with or without antibiotics. If recognized early, and the internal environment is right, natural approaches may be all you need to get over this disease.

  • What’s sad is many people cannot take these supposed antibiotic ‘miracle cures’ due to other health risk complications that would leave them disabled. I for one take very careful precautions while hiking or even walking near any vegetation by using excessive amounts of spray and being fully clothed because if I ever got this disease I’d be screwed. I have premenstrual dysmorphic disorder and essentially I have the most debilitating symptoms. I am on hormones to function and be able to get out of bed without anemia from so much bleeding, and horrible knife pain cramps. If my horomones go out of wack because of certain things like antibiotics…it’s just as bad as lyme. I also have Celiac disease so as most people know antibiotics severely damage your gut biome. So in the end 1) I’d likely not know if I had lyme because if I’m ‘gluten’ed’ by accident I get most lyme symptoms; 2) the treatment is worse than just living your best life and going out with a bang. PMDD can be just as debilitating as lyme. I do know someone who’s partner cab barely function because of lyme and all I can think is ‘that was me before being on hormones and that will be me if I ever get infected with flyme’. So yea…catch 22 for some of us. So people be careful and check your entire body often.

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