Isaac O. Opole, MD, PhD, is a board-certified internist and a current teaching professor of medicine at the University of Kansas.
Lyme disease is an infection caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is spread to humans via the bite of infected black-legged ticks, commonly known as deer ticks.
More than 95% of Lyme disease cases come from the Northeastern quarter of the United States, from Maine down to Virginia, and between the east coast and the western border of Minnesota.
Symptoms usually begin 3 to 30 days after you're bitten and often resemble the flu. It’s sometimes diagnosed with antibody tests, but if you have a confirmed tick bite, your doctor may diagnose it based on symptoms alone. If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to other symptoms weeks later, including severe fatigue and multiple rashes. However, this is less common and unlikely without the presence of other Lyme disease symptoms.
Treatment is generally antibiotics, but some people need more intensive treatment. Avoiding tick bites is the best way to prevent Lyme disease.
A bacterial infection occurs when small organisms (bacteria) invade your body. Many bacteria can cause illness. Your immune system can destroy some bacteria, but if it can’t, you may need to take an antibiotic medication, such as penicillin. Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi that infects black-legged ticks, and that ticks transmit to humans through their bite.
Bell’s palsy is a condition in which the muscles on one side of your face become weak, often causing a drooping appearance on that side. In Lyme disease, this can be the result of Lyme neuroborreliosis, which is neurological involvement that includes inflammation of your cranial nerves.
Doxycycline is an antibiotic that’s frequently prescribed for Lyme disease and many other bacterial infections. It belongs to a group of antibiotics called tetracyclines. Other antibiotics prescribed for Lyme disease include cefuroxime and amoxicillin.
ELISA is a type of blood test that detects antibodies (produced by your immune system) in your blood. This helps diagnose allergies and certain infections, including Lyme disease. A similar test, EIA (enzyme immunoassay), may also be used to diagnose Lyme disease. A positive result on ELISA or EIA is generally followed up with a Western blot test to confirm the diagnosis.
Between 30% and 60% of people who don’t get proper treatment for Lyme disease develop attacks of painful joint swelling that come and go. Each recurrence can last for anywhere from a few days to a few months.
Neuropathy is pain caused by damaged nerves. In Lyme disease, a symptom called mononeuritis multiplex involves inflammation of the nerves in your limbs, especially the hands and feet, which causes neuropathy. Mononeuritis multiplex also can lead to weakness, numbness, and a deep aching pain in your lower back, hip, or leg that can get worse at night.
The Western blot test is a blood test that checks for specific antibodies. It’s frequently performed to confirm a diagnosis of Lyme disease, after a positive ELISA or EIA test. Western blots are also used to detect other infections, including HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).
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