Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States. It was first noted in 1977 when a group of children in Old Lyme, Connecticut, had mysterious arthritis-like symptoms. It is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is carried by deer and mice ticks.
It is very important to get early treatment for Lyme disease, so if you have any symptoms, you should call your doctor immediately. Although symptoms may go away after a while, that does not mean the disease is gone. People who get early treatment with antibiotics usually get better without any complications. If it is not treated, Lyme disease can spread to the:
Untreated Lyme disease has three stages: early localized stage, early disseminated stage, and late stage.
Stage 1: Early Localized Stage
A red rash appears within a few days or weeks of a tick bite. It starts as a small red spot at the site of the bite. The spot gets bigger over time, making a flat or slightly raised circle or oval that sometimes looks like a bull's eye with the bite make at the center. The rash can range in size from that of a dime to the entire width of a person's back. As the infection spreads, rashes can show up at different places on the body. Flu-like symptoms like headache, fatigue, and fever may also appear.
Stage 2: Early Disseminated Stage
Without treatment, the disease can spread through the blood or lymph to different organs of the body. This stage develops weeks to months after the tick bite. Symptoms includes:
Stage 3: Late Stage
If Lyme disease continues to be left untreated, it can become established in various parts of the body over months or years after the initial infection. Symptoms include:
Deer ticks carrying the bacterium B. burgdorferi bite people. Not every bite from a deer tick causes the disease. The bacterium gets into the skin, after the infected tick has been in place for 24 to 48 hours.
Your risk of Lyme disease may be higher if you:
Although the risk is highest between May and July (when nymph ticks are active), you can get tick bites throughout the year. Cases were reported in all US states and other regions of the world, including Europe and Asia.
Lyme disease is diagnosed based on the typical rash or other symptoms in people who may have been exposed to ticks. Tell your doctor if you think you may have been bitten by a tick. Your doctor may order these tests:
The best defense against Lyme disease is to guard against tick bites. Measures include:
If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers, making sure to remove the head as well as the body. Do not use hot matches, petroleum jelly, nail polish, or other substances to remove the tick. Seeing your doctor and taking antibiotics within 3 days of a tick bite may prevent Lyme disease.
Your health care provider may prescribe the following medications:
You should never treat Lyme disease with complementary therapies alone. Only proper antibiotic treatment can cure the disease and avoid complications.
Newsletters and Internet sites have cropped up in recent years advertising untested treatments to people with symptoms of post-Lyme disease syndrome or so-called "chronic Lyme disease" who are frustrated with standard medical treatment. Some remedies may be dangerous and ineffective. Always tell all of your doctors about the herbs and supplements you are using or considering using.
Herbs cannot cure Lyme disease or its complications. Some herbs may help with certain symptoms, but should never be used instead of conventional antibiotic therapy. Herbs can have side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a provider. Some herbs used by people with Lyme disease include:
Other common herbal therapies with antimicrobial activity include:
All herbs should be taken under the guidance of a qualified prescriber and you should inform all of your providers about all of the conventional and CAM therapies you are considering.
Homeopathy does not cure Lyme disease or its complications. No studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies for improving Lyme symptoms. Some people use the following homeopathic remedies:
Most people who are treated with antibiotics make a full recovery. Getting early treatment can help avoid complications. Complications include arthritis, heart disease, and neurologic complications.
If you have a serious and advanced case of Lyme disease with various symptoms, your doctor may want to see you regularly.
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Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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