Early symptoms of Lyme disease

The early symptoms of Lyme disease usually occur 3-30 days after having been bitten by an infected tick carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium.

Early Lyme disease signs and symptoms:

·         Fever.

·         General malaise.

·         Chills.

·         Headache.

·         Fatigue.

·         Muscle and joint pain.

·         Enlarged lymph nodes.

·         Erythema migrans (EM) rash.

EM rashes appear in about 70%-80% of infected patients; starts at the site of the tick bite after 7 days on average; gradually spreads over a period of days and reaches up to 12 inches or more across; may feel warm to the touch but is seldom itchy or painful; may look like a bull’s-eye if it clears as it expands. On the other hand, a small bump or redness immediately after a tick bite that disappears in a couple of days is a normal occurrence and not indicative of Lyme disease. Also, fever and other general symptoms may appear in the absence of rash. Lyme disease progresses through three different stages.

Stages of Lyme disease




Stage 1

Early localized Lyme disease.

Bacteria have not yet spread throughout the body.

Stage 2

Early disseminated Lyme disease.

Bacteria have begun to spread throughout the body.

Stage 3

Late disseminated Lyme disease.

Bacteria have spread throughout the body.


The symptoms vary accordingly to the stage of the disease. If Lyme goes untreated, more serious symptoms and complications can develop days-months following a tick bite, such as:

·         Severe headaches.

·         Stiff neck.

·         Additional EM rashes on other areas of the body.

·         Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, especially in the knees and other large joints.

·         Facial or Bell's palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face).

·         Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones.

·         Heart palpitations or an abnormal heartbeat.

·         Bouts of dizziness or shortness of breath.

·         Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

·         Nerve pain.

·         Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet.

·         Short-term memory and concentration problems.

·         Sleep disorders.

·         Vision problems.

Hence the importance of going to a doctor if you experience the early symptoms of Lyme disease. Actually, the symptoms alone should warrant a visit to the doctor even if you don’t recall having been bitten; the smallest ticks – known as nymphs – can measure less than 2 millimeters, and tend to attach to the groin, armpits, scalp, and other difficult-to-see body parts. As a result, most people who develop Lyme never know what bit them. Moreover, the symptoms may come and go or resolve on their own in a matter of weeks or months, but the condition can spread to the brain, heart, and joints. Therefore, people whose symptoms have disappeared should still see a doctor. Lyme disease can be diagnosed with the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test (ELISA), and confirmed with the Western blot test, and then treated – usually a 2-4 week course of antibiotics.

Patients should finish their prescribed antibiotic regime, even if they start to feel better – or worse. Sporadically, patients treated for Lyme disease develop post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome" (PTLDS), also known as chronic Lyme disease. PTLDS has its own set of symptoms, including fatigue, pain, or joint and muscle aches. It may take up to 6 months to feel well after finishing Lyme treatment, but PTLDS patients almost invariably improve with time. And speaking of which, a person can get Lyme disease on repeated occasions; all the more reason to take preventive steps to avoid tick bites, especially in the case of people who are at an increased risk.

Children and adults who spend a lot of time in outdoor, wooded or grassy areas – especially in Northeastern states (from Virginia to Maine), North-central states (mostly Wisconsin and Minnesota) and the West Coast (mainly in the northwest), though scientists have recently found a new Lyme-causing bacterium in the Upper Midwest – have a higher risk for tick bites. These people should wear clothes that cover most of their skin, use insect repellent, and stick to trails and avoid bushes and long grass (on the tips of which ticks rest waiting for a host). As stealth as ticks are, they still need to be attached to a human host for 24-36 hours to transmit Lyme disease. This gives people at risk a pretty ample window of time to shower or bathe after coming back indoors, and inspect themselves – as well as their children and pets – for ticks and, if any are found, properly remove them with a fine-tipped set of tweezers.

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