Is Lyme Disease Curable?

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Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, transmitted by a bite from an infected black-legged tick. If it seems to be taking forever for antibiotics to relieve your symptoms, you may be wondering whether Lyme disease is actually curable. Understanding Lyme disease treatment and potential complications can help clear up your concerns.

Fortunately, most people with Lyme disease recover fully after completing a course of antibiotics. Lyme disease symptoms may persist for longer, but only in rare cases. If you have a tick bite and suspect Lyme disease, getting diagnosed and treated as soon as possible offers the best chance of a speedy and lasting recovery.

Black-legged ticks, known as deer ticks, can get infected after feeding on deer, birds, or mice who have the bacteria. Although Lyme disease can happen any time of year, tick season is April through October, which is also a time of high outdoor activity for people. Spending time in grassy and heavily wooded areas increases your risk of exposure.

Cases of Lyme disease have been reported in nearly all U.S states. However, Lyme disease is most common in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and Northwestern states. Lyme disease gets its name from the town of Lyme, Connecticut, where the first case was identified in 1975.

Recent estimates suggest that approximately 476,000 people contract Lyme disease each year in the United States.

Lyme Disease Treatment

Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics, which kill the bacteria that was transmitted through the tick bite. Once you’re diagnosed with Lyme disease, your doctor will prescribe oral antibiotics such as doxycycline. Younger children or people who are pregnant or breastfeeding may be given amoxicillin or cefuroxime.

Generally, the course of treatment is between 14 to 21 days, depending on the specific medication. Some studies suggest a shorter treatment course of 10 to 14 days is equally effective.

More severe neurological complications may require treatment with intravenous antibiotics for 14 to 28 days. These include symptoms like:

  • Bell’s palsy: Facial muscle paralysis
  • Meningitis symptoms: Fever, stiff neck, and severe headache
  • Numbness
  • Pain
  • Visual disturbances

Be sure to talk to your doctor right away if you think you might be dealing with neurological issues from Lyme disease.

Prognosis

While most people recover fully after receiving antibiotics, a small percentage of individuals continue to have symptoms that persist after treatment. These symptoms may last six months or longer.

There are a large number of Lyme disease cases in the United States each year. Luckily, the disease is not fatal, and experiencing a recurrence of symptoms is rare. Nonetheless, some people take longer to fully recover from Lyme disease and may need additional treatment after completing their first course of antibiotics.

Chronic Lyme Disease

Symptoms that persist, commonly called chronic Lyme disease or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS), are similar to the symptoms that occur in the early stages of Lyme disease, such as:

  • Aching joints or muscles
  • Decreased short-term memory
  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Joint pain or swelling
  • Restless sleep
  • Speech problems
  • Trouble concentrating

Why some people experience PTLDS and others don’t is unknown. Some experts believe that the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi can trigger an autoimmune response or that chronic symptoms could be related to a different and difficult-to-detect infection.

About 10% of people with Lyme disease develop PTLDS. Unfortunately, there is no proven treatment for it. Studies have not shown that short-term antibiotic treatment is effective, and long-term antibiotics can have serious negative effects on your health. Although it may take months, people with PTLDS do get better over time.  

Lyme Carditis 

Lyme carditis is a complication that develops when bacteria enter the heart tissues. Bacteria can interfere with electrical signals from the heart that control the beating of the heart.

Symptoms of Lyme carditis may include: 

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath

Lyme carditis occurs in 1% of Lyme disease cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your doctor will either prescribe oral or IV antibiotics for Lyme carditis, depending on your condition severity. Some patients might need a temporary pacemaker. Most people recover within one to six weeks.

When to See a Doctor

Prompt treatment for Lyme disease reduces the risk of lingering symptoms and complications. If you’ve already been treated with antibiotics but continue to experience issues, talk to your doctor to determine if additional treatment is necessary. Patience and proactive communication with your healthcare professional will help you get back to your usual state of health.

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Article Sources
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