What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease can be spread to humans through a bite from a tick. Lyme disease is rare, infecting less than 1% of people who get tick bites.
Lyme disease gets its name from a town in Connecticut, U.S., where it was first discovered in the 1970s.
If you’re bitten by one of these small insects that feed on blood, you may develop spirochetes (a type of spiral bacteria), which can lead to a range of Lyme disease symptoms.
Understanding Lyme Disease
Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose. Approximately 8 out of 10 people will develop a rash in a bulls-eye pattern. Other early Lyme disease symptoms include:
- Sore muscles and joints
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes
If left undiagnosed, the spirochete can infect the blood, leading to a more serious case of Lyme disease. It’s important to see a health care provider right away if you suspect you have Lyme disease.
Lyme Disease and Arthritis
Lyme disease is a rare infection that can cause a range of conditions, from cardiac problems to arthritis. While Lyme disease can affect joints including the ankles, wrists, shoulders and elbows, the most common joint affected by this infection is the knee.
As these symptoms flare up suddenly, many patients believe that they have arthritis, but don’t realize that Lyme disease is the culprit. If they experience chronic arthritis due to Lyme disease, the cartilage can be damaged over time.
Other Related Conditions
While rare, some patients develop neurological symptoms due to Lyme disease. These include meningitis and Bell’s palsy, which may lead to pain, loss of sensation and a lack of motor function.
Heart problems can also occur in patients with Lyme disease. If the electrical conduction pathways that control the electrical impulses of the heart become blocked, a patient can experience symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness and palpitations. Some patients develop inflammation of the heart muscle, which can cause shortness of breath and chest pain.
Post-Lyme Disease Fibromyalgia
Some patients develop post-Lyme disease syndrome, which leads to fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease that can be difficult to diagnose and treat. Often the antibiotics used to treat Lyme disease don’t improve fibromyalgia symptoms, and patients have to find other treatments to manage the pain.
Diagnosis of Lyme Disease
If you discover a tick bite, it’s crucial that you get tested for Lyme disease. You’ll need to get a blood test that looks for antibodies to the bacterium. However, this test won’t tell you if you have active Lyme disease. You’ll need something called a Western blot test to confirm the diagnosis.
Your health care provider will also explore the possibility that there are co-existing infections. These include anaplasmosis and babesiosis.
Causes of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is caused by a type of bacteria called a spirochete. A tick can become infected by this spirochete bacteria by consuming the blood of small animals that host it.
To transmit Lyme disease, a tick infected with spirochete must remain attached to a person’s skin for 24-36 hours.
Treatment for Lyme Disease
If you’ve been diagnosed with Lyme disease, you’ll need to start treatment immediately. If you have early Lyme disease symptoms, your health care provider will probably prescribe oral antibiotics (such as doxycycline, cefotaxime or amoxicillin) for 10-21 days. You may also take over-the-counter analgesic medications such as acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to manage joint pain and fever.
Some patients experience cardiac or neurologic symptoms associated with Lyme disease. These patients will need to be admitted to the hospital for intravenous infusion of antibiotics.
If you experience arthritis symptoms due to Lyme disease, you will likely take antibiotics for about 30 days. In some patients, intravenous administration of antibiotics in the hospital is required. In patients with severe joint pain, a steroid such as oral prednisone might help.