Lyme Disease Symptoms and Diagnosis

Photo credit: Bigstockphoto
Photo credit: Bigstockphoto

Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by a strain of bacteria from the Borrelia type. This bacteria is spread to human beings through infected ticks. Although Lyme disease is treatable, it is notoriously hard to diagnose. In fact, some patients are unaware of being sick until diagnosed by a doctor. By the time the disease is diagnosed, the symptoms have become very severe. Lyme disease should be treated right away because the infection can lead to serious health problems.

Why Lyme Disease is Hard to Diagnose

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, 96% of reported Lyme disease occurs in the Northeast and upper Midwest of the US. This condition is hard to diagnose because blood work and a physical exam are needed to confirm an infection. In addition, most victims are unaware that an infected tick has bitten them.

The symptoms of Lyme disease are similar to other bacterial infections – such as flu-like symptoms – making detection even harder. This is the reason why those who are sick with Lyme disease do not go to the doctor for diagnosis right away.

Early Symptoms of Lyme Disease

The tell-tale signs of Lyme disease are circular, bull’s eye-like rashes on the tick bite, persistent muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue. Flu-like symptoms – such as malaise, muscle soreness, and fever – are also symptoms of Lyme disease. Lyme disease’s symptoms are not specific and the incubation period of the bacteria takes about two weeks to months and years.

Advanced Symptoms of Lyme Disease

Advanced symptoms of this infection include recurring joint pain in the knees, stiff neck that does not go away, severe headaches, and shooting body pains at night. Dizziness, abnormal heart rhythm and heart rate are also signs of severe Lyme disease.

When not treated for several months, the symptoms could progress to damaged nervous system. The complications of stage Lyme disease are Bell’s palsy or loss of muscle function in the face, heart disease, liver issues, and eye inflammation.

Treating Lyme Disease

The CDC recommends a two-tiered testing for Lyme disease. The exams are designed to detect the antibodies that fight off the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. The two-step test is recommended for accurate diagnosis. There are cases wherein a person may not have Lyme disease but is suffering from another tick-borne disease, lupus, syphilis, or other autoimmune disorders. The result of the first step will be confirmed by the second test.

The treatment for Lyme disease will depend on the severity of the symptoms. Generally, this infection is treated with antibiotics. Early detection is a must for a better chance of recovery. Early stages of Lyme disease can be treated with oral antibiotics taken two to three weeks. For those with more severe symptoms such as neurological impairment, the meds will be administered intravenously.

Late stage Lyme disease requires weeks up to a month of treatment. However, some patients still suffer chronic symptoms after treatment. Although the antibiotics have killed the offending bacteria, the effects of the infection still lingers. This condition is called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome or PTLDS.

PTLDS occurs when the immune system is still clearing the infection long after the bacteria are gone. Symptoms of PTLDS include persistent joint pain or reactive arthritis, severe fatigue, and short-term memory loss. PTLDS is treated through proper diet, consistent sleep routine, and counseling to cope with the mental anguish of suffering from Lyme disease.

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