Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of a deer tick carrying the bacterium Borrelia Burgdorferi (BB). This bacteria is a cousin to the spirochete bacterium responsible for syphilis. Infected ticks thrive in forested areas. They transmit the bacteria to humans, which causes a range of health problems. With an early diagnosis, it is possible to recover completely without long-term effects, but undiagnosed Lyme disease can have severe complications.
The most typical and distinctive of all symptoms is the Erythema migrans (EM) rash. It is present in 70% to 80% of infected individuals and is first present at the site of the tick bite. Most people notice the rash three days to a month following exposure; it often develops in a bull's eye pattern and is not itchy or painful. The mildwarm redness spreads outward gradually as the infection progresses. Additional EM rashes may appear on different sites if treatment does not begin promptly.
Most people with Lyme disease experience flu-like symptoms, especially fever and chills. The effects may be cyclical, with body temperature rising and dropping. In some cases, fevers reach 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes, when the fever precedes a rash, doctors and patients mistake the condition with the flu.
People with Lyme disease often feel weary and fatigued without reason, even after resting or participating in activities that would otherwise energize. Those who develop post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS) tend to feel the most extreme form of this symptom. Even as the bacteria leave the body, the effects may linger for many months.
People with Lyme disease may complain of mild to severe muscle and joint pain. This migratory symptom usually comes and goes seemingly at random, and can also manifest in various locations. Mostly, the muscle and joint pain improve once the individual begins a course of antibiotics. However, in some cases of PTLDS, symptoms may persist beyond recovery.
Lyme disease produces severe headaches that intensify over time. A persistent headache is one of the classic signs of Lyme disease and should prompt an individual to seek medical attention. In the later stages of Lyme disease, headaches can be the result of swelling and inflammation of the protective tissue surrounding the brain; this condition is meningitis. These headaches, which occur when the bacteria die, are rare.
Between 5% and 10% of people with Lyme disease develop facial palsy during the infection. If the paralysis is bilateral, this points even more strongly to Lyme disease. Very few disorders cause facial nerve palsy on both sides of the face; when facial nerves are affected, individuals experience weakness or immobility in the muscles. Treatment for facial palsy generally takes around three months for complete recovery. In some cases, however, it may take a year to 18 months before the nerves completely regenerate.
If left untreated, Lyme disease can affect cardiac function. The bacteria enter the tissues of the heart and compromise its electrical capacity, leading to a heart block and irregular heartbeat. In turn, some people experience shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting, and palpitations, which can increase in severity and become life-threatening.
A possible complication of Lyme disease is peripheral neuropathy, which signals dysfunction in the communication between nerves. Lyme-related neuropathy can cause odd sensations in different parts of the body, especially the limbs. Some people feel sharp, stabbing pains, burning sensations, tingling, and even numbness. These symptoms are common to many diseases, which is one more reason affirmative Lyme disease diagnoses are often delayed.
Lyme disease may cause inflammation throughout the body. Several of the symptoms mentioned above are manifestations of this inflammation. However, liver swelling leading to hepatitis can also occur, as can redness of the eye and inflammation in the joints. Further, Lyme disease can cause arthritis-like symptoms. While these are not typical of the disease, nor are they uncommon. Early diagnosis significantly reduces the risk of their occurrence.
People with Lyme disease are at risk of cognitive impairments. This symptom might occur in the initial phase of infection or months after contraction of the bacteria. Problems with short-term memory and word retrieval are common. Concentration, alertness, and efficiency of mental processing may also develop. They usually occur in cases where the condition remains untreated for a long time. In cases where Lyme disease has long-term effects, cognitive problems are more subtle.
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