Could You Have Lyme Disease Without Realizing It?

  1. July 30, 2015
  2. by Dr. Donna
  3. 2,708 views
Could You Have Lyme Disease Without Realizing It?

The horror of finding a tick with its head sucking your blood is bad, but what could follow later could be even worse. Symptoms that affect your entire body – your brain and how you think, your nervous system and how you move, your joints and how they feel, and even your heart may follow that tick bite.

Lyme Disease is an infectious disease transmitted by a tick in the genus Ixodus. The tick carries a bacterial species called Borrelia burgdorferi that is responsible for the disease and its symptoms. The good news is that if you have Lyme Disease, you can’t transmit it to other people in your family; only a tick bite causes the disease. Likewise, an animal that contracts Lyme Disease can’t give the disease to you.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease Vary from Person to Person

So what are the symptoms? Something to remember about the symptoms is that they vary depending on the person. Some people may get several symptoms while others only get a few symptoms – and those symptoms may not appear for several days or weeks. Lyme Disease isn’t like measles where everyone gets the same type of rash or like strep throat where the back of the throat is beet red, and there’s a fever, fatigue, and muscle aches.

Most Common Symptoms of Lyme Disease

Learning the most common symptoms is important if you want to help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis of Lyme Disease. You might even note symptoms in a diary or journal after a tick bite for several weeks just to make sure that you don’t end up going from doctor to doctor for decades. In one study of 313 patients who had Lyme disease that had spread to many parts of their body, only 2% of them tested positive in a blood test for it!

Symptoms of tick-borne infections are often confused with other childhood illnesses, so this is another reason to keep your journal of symptoms. Below is a list of the symptoms that occur most commonly:

  1. Erythema migrans: This is a reddened area that doesn’t itch or hurt that occurs in about 75% of those bit by an infected tick bite.  It appears between 3 days and 32 days after the bite. The rash looks like a target and is often called a bull’s eye rash. The center of it, where the tick bit, is very red, and there’s a circle of redness around it. The rash may quickly expand but doesn’t hurt.
  2. Fever
  3. Headache
  4. Tiredness
  5. Muscle Soreness

Less Common Symptoms of Lyme Disease

Interestingly, some of the symptoms of Lyme disease are still occurring years later after the infection started, and the infected person already took antibiotics. The current medical treatment may not eliminate some of the symptoms of Lyme disease.

  1. Joint pains that migrate: When the infection migrates to the joints, you’ll get joint pains and even arthritis, an inflammation of the joint. The most common joint affected is the knee, but the hips, shoulders, wrists and elbows may also be affected. The joint pain can persist for years. The swelling and pains come and go.
  2. Neuroborreliosis: These are symptoms that show up in the nervous system. This whole group of symptoms only occurs in about 12-15% of patients. Symptoms include severe headaches with a stiff neck, facial palsy (when one side of the face starts drooping), light sensitivity, sleep problems, and dizziness and vertigo lasting 20 minutes or longer.
  3. Progressive weakness of the legs that then affects the arms with no reflexes: You may call this unique symptom part of the neuroborreliosis symptoms, but it is very rare. Only recently was the first case diagnosed at the Kettering General Hospital in the UK.
  4. High eosinophil counts in the cerebrospinal fluid: This symptom is very rare and usually seen in those who have meningitis from bacteria or fungal infections, those with medication allergies or cancer and those who have parasites. It’s another symptom that technically is in the neuroborreliosis category.
  5. Lyme carditis: These symptoms may include heart palpitations, enlarged heart, and other heart problems. Antibiotic therapy helps patients almost always recover from these symptoms. Heart conditions caused by Lyme Disease are rare, but they do occur and can affect up to 10% of patients with the disease.
  6. Shooting pains in arms and legs: This symptom may occur in later stages of the disease.
  7. Memory problems: Memory loss is called a cognitive complaint. Lack of focus and inability to think clearly are also included in this category. Cognitive complaints may last longer than six months after antibiotic therapy for Lyme disease.
  8. Chronic fatigue: This symptom is hard on the body because it can interfere with your work productivity and cause you to leave on disability.
  9. Uveitis: This is an inflammation of the uvea in the eye. Symptoms include redness, pain, light sensitivity, blurred vision, and dark floating spots in the field of vision. 
  10. Lymphocytoma: This is a raised purple lump that can show up on the scrotum, ear lobe or nipple. It’s uncommon in American Lyme Disease patients but more common in those who are bitten in Europe.
  11. Psychiatric Disorders: Because the bacterial infection affects the brain and sensitive neural tissue, psychiatric disorders may result. 

Know the symptoms of Lyme disease, and most importantly — if anyone in your family is bitten by a tick, start recording symptoms over the next six months.

Sources
  1. PubMed: Poor Positive Predictive Value of Lyme Disease Serologic Testing in an Area of Low Disease Incidence.
  2. PubMed: Tick-borne diseases of the USA: Ten things clinicians should know.
  3. PubMed: Erythema migrans
  4. PubMed: Chronic Lyme disease: misconceptions and challenges for patient management.