Lyme Disease - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatment

Lyme Disease : Causes and Treatment

Authored by Dr.Mohan Rao on 27 May 2015 - 12:13


Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease  found in Europe and North America. It is caused by bacteria called Borrelia Burgdoferi. These bacteria harbor on the deer ticks which feed on the blood of animals and humans. The bacteria spreads when they feed on the human or animal.

The risk of getting Lyme disease is more among those who live or spend more time in grassy or heavily wooded areas where the ticks live. It is very important to take precautions in these areas to prevent getting affected by the disease.

If the affected person is given antibiotics in the early stages, then he/ she may recover quickly. In later stages, the effect of the drugs becomes less, so it takes longer duration to recover completely.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Lyme disease, particularly Neurologic Post Treatment Lyme disease syndrome (nPTLS), have common symptoms of cognitive dysfunction and fatigue. Despite extensive research CFS and nPTLS remain medically unexplained. There are no biological markers to distinguish these syndromes, creating diagnostic dilemmas and impeding research into understanding each individual syndrome.




The bacteria Borrelia burgdoferi, which are carried by deer ticks are brown in color and the size is not more than head of a pin when they are young. This makes them nearly impossible to spot.

Lyme disease gets contracted when an infected deer tick bites the person. The bacteria first enter the skin and gradually enter into the blood stream. Generally the tick needs to be attached for 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease. If the deer tick is spotted and is found to be swollen, then it has already fed long enough to transmit the disease. To prevent transmission the ticks should be removed as soon as possible.

The symptoms of Lyme disease differ from one person to another, but usually more than one system is affected. Nervous system, joints and skin are mostly affected.

Early Symptoms:

These symptoms may occur within a month after the person is infected:

  • Rash: A small, red bump may be formed at the site of bite which after a few days expand and form a rash in bull’s eye pattern. This rash is also called erythema migrans. This rash may be developed at more than one place in the body.
  • Flu like symptoms: Chills, fever, fatigue, headache and body aches.

Later symptoms:

In some people the following symptoms may appear after several weeks to months of getting infected:

  • Joint pain: The person may experience severe pain and swelling in the joints. Knee is mostly affected, but the pain can shift from one joint to another.
  • Neurological problems: These symptoms may occur months or even years after getting infected. These include inflammation of the meninges, temporary paralysis of one side of the face, impaired movement of muscles and weakness or numbness of the limbs.

Less common symptoms:

The less common symptoms which may be experienced by some people after several weeks include:

  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Inflammation of the liver
  • Severe fatigue



The different signs and symptoms of Lyme disease are non-specific and are seen in other diseases, making the diagnosis difficult. Moreover, the ticks which transmit Lyme disease can also transmit some other diseases at the same time.

The physician may first conduct a physical examination of the rash and take a detailed medical history including whether the patient has been outdoors. To confirm the disease, certain lab tests are required to be done to detect the antibodies against the bacteria. These tests are more reliable after a week of infection as the body takes some time to develop antibodies. The tests include:

  • Enzyme linked immune sorbent assay (ELISA) test: This test is most often used in the detection of Lyme disease as it detects the antibodies against the bacteria B. burgdorferi. This test is not solely used in the confirmation of the disease as sometimes it can give false positive results.
  • Western blot test: After a positive result is obtained in the ELISA test, Western Blot test is done to confirm the diagnosis. This test identifies antibodies against several proteins of B. burgdoferi.
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR): This test is useful in detection of bacterial DNA from the fluid of an infected joint. This test is done in the patients who are suffering from chronic Lyme arthritis. It is also used in the detection of persistent infection in the cerebrospinal fluid of the patients who experience neurological symptoms.




The most common risk factors for Lyme disease include:

  • Spending time in grassy or wooded areas
  • Having exposed skin
  • Not removing ticks properly or immediately

Antibiotics are used in the treatment of Lyme disease. The sooner the treatment is started, the sooner the recovery. The following antibiotics are used in the treatment:

  • Oral antibiotics: Oral antibiotics such as doxycycline, cefuroxime and amoxicillin are used in the treatment of Lyme disease. Doxycycline is used in adults and children who are older than 8 years of age, while cefuroxime or amoxicillin can be used in young children, adults and breast feeding or pregnant women. It is usually recommended to take a 14 to 21 day course of antibiotics, but some studies suggest that only 10 to 14 days course of antibiotics is effective.
  • Intravenous antibiotics: Intravenous antibiotic may be recommended by the physician if the central nervous system of the patient is affected. These antibiotics are given for 14 to 28 days. This is effective in eliminating the infection, but it may take some more time to recover from the symptoms. Some side effects may be experienced after taking intra venous antibiotics which include mild to severe diarrhea, lower white blood cells count or infection with other antibiotic resistant organisms.

Even after the completion of antibiotic course, some people still experience some symptoms such as fatigue and muscle aches. The cause of these symptoms is unknown and further taking of antibiotics doesn’t help.



The most important tip for prevention of Lyme disease is to avoid the areas where the deer ticks live. These include wooded areas or bushy areas with long grass. Some tips for prevention of this disease are:

  • Wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves while walking through grassy or bushy areas.
  • Apply an insect repellent to the skin with 20 percent or more concentration of DEET in it.
  • Keep the yard tick proof by clearing the leaves and keeping the wood piles in sunny area.
  • Take a shower immediately after visiting grassy or bushy areas so that the attached tick gets washed away.
  • Remove the attached ticks gently with tweezers by holding the tick by its head or mouth and apply an antiseptic at the bite area.
*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.