Lyme Disease: Definition, Stages, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and More


Lyme disease happens when you get bitten by a tick that carries germs. It can make you sick with things like a rash that looks like a bull’s eye, hurting joints, and sometimes what’s called post-Lyme disease syndrome. Doctors first noticed it in a place called old Lyme in Connecticut in 1975. This sickness is caused by tiny bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi or, in rare cases, Borrelia mayonii. People usually get B. burgdoferi when they get bitten by a certain kind of tick, often called a deer tick. These tick up the germs when they bite animals like deer, birds, or mice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says these infected ticks mostly spread Lyme disease in parts of the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and North Central USA, as well as along the Pacific Coast. For more research you can also visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial infection transmitted to humans through the bite of a deer tick. In the northeastern United States, most cases of Lyme disease happen during the summer or fall, when the small nymphal ticks are most common. The disease was first reported in the U.S. in 1977 in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

What are the Stages of Lyme Disease?

Doctors usually divide it into three stages. This helps them understand how serious the symptoms are and how the infection is progressing.

  • Early Localized: This happens within 1 to 28 days after getting bitten by a tick.
  • Early Disseminated: This stage can show up between 3 to 12 weeks after the tick bite.
  • Last Disseminated: This is the most serious stage and might take months or even years to appear after the initial tick bite.

What are the Causes of Lyme Disease?

It is caused by bacteria called Borrelia. In North America, the black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, is the primary carrier of the bacteria. In Europe, a different species of Borrelia causes it, and ticks carry this bacteria as well. These ticks are known by various names, including castor bean tick, sheep tick or deer tick.

Tick Bites:

Ticks feed blood by attaching to a host’s skin and can become swollen many times their usual size during feeding. Deer ticks, for example, can feed on a host’s blood for several days. Ticks can pick up bacteria, such as those causing it, from a host like a deer or rodent. Although ticks themselves don’t get sick from these bacteria, they can pass them to another host. When an infected tick feeds on a person, the bacteria can move into the person’s bloodstream. Removing the tick within 24 hours reduces the likelihood of the bacteria spreading and causing it. Both young and adult ticks can carry the disease. Young ticks are very small and can be difficult to spot, so you might not notice if one bites you. 

 What are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?

Symptoms of it change as the infection progresses. However, how bad the symptoms get, how they develop, and what they look like can be different for each person. For instance, symptoms from stages 1 and 2 might be similar or you might not have stage 1 symptoms but later on start having symptoms.

Early Symptoms of Lyme Disease:

Early symptoms of it typically 3 to 30 days after being bitten by a tick. One of the earliest signs is a bull’s-eye rash, also called erythema migrans. About 8 out of 10 people get this rash, which appears where the tick bit you. It usually has a red spot in the middle with a clear area around it and redness on the outside. If you have lighter skin the rash might look solid red but if your skin is darker it might resemble a bruise. The rash might feel warm but usually doesn’t hurt or itch. Other common symptoms in the first stage of it include:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Changes in vision
  • Feeling tired
  • Muscles aches
  • Headaches

Later Symptoms of Lyme Disease:

Early disseminated it can show up within 3 months’ after the tick bite, while late disseminated Lyme disease might take up to a year. Stages 2 and 3 of Lyme disease mean the infection has spread all over your body, including to other organs. Symptoms might include:

  • Abnormal heart rhythm, which Lyme carditis can cause
  • Problems with your nerves, like facial weakness or issues with cranial nerves
  • Having more than one bull’s-eye rash on your body
  • Bad headaches
  • Stiffness in your neck
  • Meningitis
  • Swollen, painful joints, usually the knee
  • Encephalopathy, which can make it hard to remember things, concentrate, or understand conversations, and might cause sleep disorders.
  • Remember, you might have these later symptoms of Lyme disease without having had earlier symptoms like a bull’s-eye rash.

Lyme Disease Symptoms in Children:

Kids usually have the same symptoms and how it progresses as adults. However, according to a review from 2019, kids might also show some psychological symptoms like:

  • Getting angry or being aggressive
  • Changes in their mood
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Having bad dreams
  • Psychological stress

If your child is acting strangely and can’t explain why or how they’re feeling, talk to a doctor. These changes could be a sign of lots of things, including it.  

What is the Diagnosis of Lyme Disease?

It can be tricky to figure out because its symptoms are similar to other illnesses. First, a doctor will ask about your medical history and check you over to see if you have the bull’s-eye rash or other signs of Lyme disease. If there aren’t any obvious signs, they might suggest two blood tests called ELISA and Western blot. These tests help find antibodies that your body makes to fight the Lyme disease bacteria. They work best a few weeks after you get infected when your body has made enough antibodies. There are also DIY Lyme disease testing kits you can use at home, especially if you’ve recently been bitten by a tick or been in a place where ticks live. But it’s smart to see a doctor if you have any signs of Lyme disease.

Tick Testing for Lyme Disease:

Some private labs offer tests to check ticks for it. But the CDC doesn’t recommend these tests for a few reasons:

  • These labs don’t have to follow the same strict rules as labs that test for medical purposes.
  • Even if a tick tests positive for the germ that causes Lyme disease, it doesn’t mean you have the illness.
  • If the tests say that it is negative for it, you might think you’re safe, but you could have been bitten by another tick that gave you Lyme disease.
  • If you do have Lyme disease, you’ll probably start feeling sick before you get the test results. It’s important not to wait for the results to start treatment.

What is the Treatment of Lyme Disease?

Treatment for it depends on how far the infection has spread.

Early Stage:

It is easier to treat when caught early. For early localized disease doctors usually prescribe oral antibiotics for 10 to 14 days to get rid of the infection. Common medications for treating it include:

  • Doxycycline
  • Amoxicillin
  • Cefuroxime

Later Stage:

If it has advanced beyond the first stage of affecting important systems like your blood circulation or central nervous system, your doctor might suggest giving you antibiotics through a vein (IV). After that, you’ll switch to taking antibiotics by mouth. The whole treatment usually lasts 14 to 28 days. If you have a weird heartbeat or heart disease, your doctor might want you to stay in the hospital until it goes back to normal. Lyme arthritis, which happens in the late stages, is also treated with oral antibiotics for 28 days.

What is the Transmission of Lyme Disease?

Tricks carrying the B. burgdoferi bacteria can latch onto any part of your body. They’re often found in damp, hidden spots like your scalp, armpits, and groin. For the bacteria to spread the trick needs to be attached to you for at least 36 hours. Most cases of Lyme disease come from young ticks called nymphs. They bite in the spring and summer and are more likely to pass on the bacteria because they’re tiny, about the size of a poppy seed, making them tricky to spot and remove compared to adult ticks.

Is person to person possible?

That’s correct, it doesn’t spread between humans, from pets to humans, or through the air, food or water. It also doesn’t spread through lice, mosquitoes, fleas, or flies.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding:

Some small studies have suggested a possible link between Lyme disease during pregnancy and developmental differences or fetal death, but more research is needed to confirm this. There have been no reports of it spreading through breastfeeding. However, a doctor might advise against breastfeeding while undergoing treatment. When pregnant, different antibiotics may be needed to treat Lyme disease safely.

Is Lyme Disease Contagious?

According to the CDC, there’s no proof that Lyme disease spreads between people. That means you can’t get it from touching, kissing, having sex, or being around someone with Lyme disease. It also doesn’t spread through the air, food, or water.

What are the Risk Factors of Lyme Disease?

Living in a state where Lyme disease is common might make it more likely for you to get bitten by an infected tick. According to the CDC, as of 2021 the states with the most cases of Lyme disease are:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

People who work outdoors, like in construction, landscaping, farming, or park management also have a higher chance of getting it. Most tick bites happen in the summer when ticks are most active and people spend more time outside. But you could still get it from tick bites in early or even late winter if it’s warm outside.

What are the Complications of Lyme Disease?

Complications from it can include:

  • Heart problems, like myocarditis or pericarditis
  • Swollen joints with a lot of fluid, such as a Baker’s cyst in the knee
  • Nervous system issues, like meningitis, problems with thinking or encephalitis

Lyme carditis is a serious problem where the Lyme bacteria infect the heart. People with Lyme carditis might feel their heart racing, asthma, trouble breathing, or fainting along with other Lyme disease symptoms. About 10% of people with Lyme disease develop something called post treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS), or chronic disease. This means they still have some symptoms even after finishing treatment. We’re still not sure exactly why this happens. Besides complications, there’s also a chance of getting more than one infection. According to the CDC, up to 12% of Lyme cases involve getting another disease from the tick along with Lyme. Ticks that give you Lyme can also carry other diseases like babesiosis and anaplasmosis.

What are the Preventions of Lyme Disease?

The best way to avoid Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Know where ticks are usually found.
  • Use bug spray on your skin, clothes, and camping or hiking gear.
  • Make sure your pets get tick prevention treatments.
  • After being outdoors, check yourself, your clothes, and your pets for ticks.
  • Take a shower when you come inside and look for ticks.
  • Wash and dry your clothes at high temperatures to kill ticks.
  • Talk to a pest control expert about keeping ticks out of your yard.
  • If you find a tick, remove it carefully and quickly.
  • Stay aware of the symptoms of Lyme disease.

Tick repellent can be bought online. When checking for ticks on your body, be sure to look.

  • Under your arms and behind your knees.
  • Around and inside your ears
  • In your belly button
  • In any hair
  • Between your legs
  • Around your waist

If a tick has been attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, it’s unlikely to spread the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.


Can Lyme disease heal on its own?

Even if you don’t get treated, most people will naturally get better from Lyme disease and won’t have any complications. However, if the infection isn’t treated, complications can happen later, including joint infection usually in a big joint like the knee. Problems with your nervous system, like meningitis or encephalitis.

Will Vaseline remove the tick?

Clean the bite spot with alcohol to disinfect it. Then, call your doctor, who might want to check the tick. Sometimes, doctors give kids who are at high risk for Lyme disease a small dose of antibiotics to prevent. Remember, never use petroleum jelly or a hot match to try to kill or remove a tick.

How long do ticks live?

Blacklegged ticks typically live for about two to three years. Most of their life is spent in the environment rather than on an animal or in a nest. Throughout their life, they will feed on blood only three times. The life cycle begins when a female lays eggs.

When is tick season?

Adult ticks, which are about the size of sesame seeds, are most active from March to mid-May and from mid-August to November. Both nymphs and adults can spread Lyme disease. Ticks can be active whenever the temperature is above freezing.

Can you fully recover from Lyme disease?

Typically, Lyme disease completely clears up with a short course of antibiotics.

Can lemon remove ticks?

Lemon is often considered a good natural option for repelling ticks and fleas because it has strong repellent properties and is not very toxic to other organisms. One lemon extract called Citriodiol, which is derived from lemon eucalyptus, has been shown to be effective in repelling ticks, mosquitoes, stable flies, and midges.

What foods get rid of ticks?

While certain dietary choices may alter your body chemistry in a way that ticks find less appealing, there isn’t strong scientific evidence to support the idea that specific foods can effectively discourage ticks. However, maintaining a diet rich in garlic, onions, and foods high in vitamins B1 like tuna, tomatoes, sunflowers, seeds, asparagus, and leafy greens can have overall health benefits and may potentially contribute to a less favorable environment for ticks. It’s important to note that these dietary changes should not be relied upon as the sole method of tick prevention, and other measures such as using repellents and wearing protective clothing when outdoors are still recommended.

Does salt get rid of ticks?

Salt needs a desiccant, meaning it can dry out organisms. However, there’s limited evidence to suggest that salt effectively kills ticks. Furthermore, applying salt to try to make a tick release or die when it’s embedded in your skin or your pet’s skin is not recommended. It can irritate the tick and may cause it to release more bacteria into the skin. It’s best to use proper tick removal techniques, such as using fine- tipped tweezers, to safely remove ticks. 

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