Lyme disease is a bacterial infection you get from the bite of an infected tick. The first symptom is usually a rash, which may look like a bull's eye. As the infection spreads, you may have the following:
- Muscle and joint aches
- Stiff neck
Lyme disease can be hard to diagnose because you may not have noticed a tick bite. Also, many of its symptoms are like those of the flu and other diseases. In the early stages, your health care provider will look at your symptoms and medical history, to figure out whether you have Lyme disease. Lab tests may help at this stage, but may not always give a clear answer. In later stages of disease, a different lab test can confirm whether you have it.
Antibiotics can cure most cases of Lyme disease. The sooner treatment begins, the quicker and more complete the recovery.
After treatment, some patients may still have muscle or joint aches and nervous system symptoms. This is called post-Lyme disease syndrome (PLDS). Long-term antibiotics have not been shown to help with PLDS. However, there are ways to help with the symptoms of PLDS, and most patients do get better with time.
Questions to ask your Doctor about Lyme Disease
You can get Lyme disease when you're bitten by a tick that's been infected with the germ that causes Lyme disease. The disease can cause a “bull’s eye” rash, chills, fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle pain.
Below are some questions you may want to ask your doctor or nurse about Lyme disease:
Where on the body are you most likely to get a tick bite?
- How large are ticks and tick bites? If I have a tick bite, will I always get Lyme disease?
- Can I get Lyme disease even if I never noticed a tick bite on my body?
- What can I do to prevent getting tick bites when I am in a wooded or grassy area?
- In what areas of the US am I more likely to get a tick bite or Lyme disease? At what time of the year is the risk higher?
- Should I remove a tick if I find one on my body? What is the proper way to remove a tick bite? Should I save the tick?
If I get Lyme disease from a tick bite, what symptoms will I have?
- Will I always have symptoms soon after getting Lyme disease (early or primary Lyme disease)? Will these symptoms get better if I am treated with antibiotics?
- If I do not get symptoms right away, can I get symptoms later? How much later? Are these symptoms the same as the early symptoms? Will these symptoms get better if I am treated with antibiotics?
- If I am treated for Lyme disease, will I ever have symptoms again? If I do, will these symptoms get better if I am treated with antibiotics?
How can my doctor diagnose me with Lyme disease? Can I be diagnosed even if I do not remember having a tick bite?
What are the antibiotics used to treat Lyme disease? How long do I need to take them? What are the side effects?
Will I have a full recovery from my Lyme disease symptoms?
Ticks are small, insect-like creatures that live in woods and fields. They attach to you as you brush past bushes, plants, and grass. Once on you, ticks often move to a warm, moist location. They are often found in the armpits, groin, and hair. Ticks attach firmly to your skin and begin to draw blood for their meal. This process is painless. Most people will not notice the tick bite.
Ticks can be fairly large -- about the size of a pencil eraser. They can also be so small that they are very hard to see.. Ticks can cause a number of health conditions. Some of these can be serious..
Symptoms of Ticks
While most ticks do not carry diseases, some ticks can cause:
- Colorado tick fever
- Lyme disease
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Do NOT try to burn the tick with a match or other hot object.
- Do NOT twist the tick when pulling it out.
- Do NOT try to kill, smother, or lubricate the tick with oil, alcohol, Vaseline, or similar material.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your doctor if you have not been able to remove the entire tick. Also call if in the days following a tick bite you develop:
- A rash
- Flu-like symptoms, including fever and headache
- Joint pain or redness
- Swollen lymph nodes
Call 911 if you have any signs of:
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Increasingly severe headache which does not respond to medication
- Severe headache
- Trouble breathing
Prevention of Ticks
- Wear long pants and long sleeves when walking through heavy brush, tall grass, and thickly wooded areas.
- Pull your socks over the outside of your pants to prevent ticks from crawling up your leg.
- Keep your shirt tucked into your pants.
- Wear light-colored clothes so that ticks can be spotted easily.
- Spray your clothes with insect repellant.
- Check your clothes and skin often while in the woods.
After returning home:
- Remove your clothes. Look closely at all your skin surfaces including your scalp. Ticks can quickly climb up the length of your body.
- Some ticks are large and easy to locate. Other ticks can be quite small, so carefully evaluate all black or brown spots on the skin.
- If possible ask someone to help you examine your body for ticks.
- An adult should examine children carefully.