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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.

Skin Rash

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.

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Fever and Chills

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.

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Fatigue

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.

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Muscle and Joint Pain

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.

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Severe Headaches

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.

Woman in pain NickyLloyd / Getty Images

 

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Facial Palsy

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.

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Irregular Heart Beat

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.

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Abnormal Sensations in the Limbs

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.

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Inflammation at Several Sites

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.

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Cognitive Problems

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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Sensitivity to Light

Lyme disease can cause inflammation in the eyes and affect how they function in other ways, which leads to a sensitivity to light. Some of these changes can occur after treatment and may signify neurologic or cognitive impairment and hint at the severity of the illness.

Lyme can also cause uveitis, a swelling of the middle layer of the eye, or scleritis, an inflammation of the white part of the eye, both of which cause light sensitivity.

Woman Covering Her Eyes from Strong Sun Shining in her Face nicoletaionescu / Getty Images

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Vision Changes

Lyme disease can cause many types of vision change, depending on whether it is affecting the brain or the eyes themselves. In addition to causing light sensitivity, uveitis can cause floaters or blurry vision, and scleritis can lead to blurred vision and eye tenderness. In the brain, cranial nerve damage can lead to optic nerve inflammation and cause double vision.

Backpacker man looking at bright sun through polarized sunglasses enjoying mountain landscape. Eye & Vision Care human health concept image. Solovyova / Getty Images

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Sleep Disturbances

Sleep disturbances are a common complaint of people with Lyme disease. A recent study found that patients with an acute Lyme disease infection reported poorer sleep and experienced more significant daytime dysfunction, including general sleepiness while driving, eating, or socializing.

In this study, pain played a role in how well participants slept, indicating that the interplay of sleep, pain, and fatigue may be an important part of managing Lyme disease, but more studies are needed.

Depressed senior Asian man lying in bed cannot sleep from insomnia Filmstax / Getty Images

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Mood Changes

Lyme disease can affect any cell in the body. If it gets into the cells in the nervous system, it can cause a range of problems with emotional and cognitive functioning.

This specific outcome is called neuroborreliosis. Symptoms include obsessive thoughts, outbursts of rage, anxiety, depression, and extreme and rapid mood swings.

Woman changing smileys on her face grinvalds / Getty Images

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Neck Stiffness

Neck stiffness can also be a sign of Lyme disease. One recent review found that neck stiffness occurs in about 13.6 percent of cases. Other research has found that for people who develop facial palsy from Lyme disease, about 41 percent experience neck stiffness or pain. Stiff neck can be an early symptom of the disease.

Conceptual image of a man holding his neck, either in physical or emotional pain Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images

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Swollen Lymph Nodes

Swollen lymph nodes are not uncommon when your body is fighting an infection, and they can appear in Lyme disease. Lymph nodes are located all over the body; when they swell, you may feel them along the side of your neck, under your chin, or in your armpits or groin. Swollen lymph nodes can feel hard and are often painful.

Close up of young woman rubbing her inflamed tonsils, tonsilitis problem, cropped. Woman with thyroid gland problem, touching her neck, girl has a sore throat stefanamer / Getty Images

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Tinnitus and Hearing Loss

Tinnitus and hearing loss may be symptoms in the second stage of Lyme disease or later, when the symptoms start to get worse. One small study found that as many as 76.5 percent of participants with tick-bourne disease report tinnitus; 16.7 percent report hearing loss.

Researchers believe these symptoms may be due to changes in the central and peripheral nervous systems as the disease progresses and the damage to the body becomes more severe.

Handsome middle age man holding hand near ear trying to listen against blue background FabrikaCr / Getty Images

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Dizziness and Shortness of Breath

Dizziness and shortness of breath are symptoms that may appear in later stages of the disease. Dizziness may be related to hearing changes or vertigo, but dizziness and shortness of breath may also be signs of Lyme carditis, which occurs when the bacteria that causes Lyme disease enters the heart.

This serious complication of Lyme disease occurs in about one of every 100 cases of Lyme disease reported to the CDC.

Stressed out senior businessman having heart attack Slavica / Getty Images

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Vertigo

The same study looking at tinnitus and hearing loss in Lyme disease also found that 53.7 percent of study participants with a tick-bourne illness reported vertigo and dizziness. These symptoms may not appear until the disease has spread and can increase and become more severe in later stages.

Vertigo dizzynes bymuratdeniz / Getty Images

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Unexplained Weight Changes

Research shows that Lyme disease can cause affect weight in multiple ways, including weight loss or weight gain with or without increased food intake. There may be many reasons for these changes, including how the disease affects taste and smell or GI distress from chronic Lyme disease or medications.

Many mental health conditions can occur with Lyme disease, too, including depression and anxiety, which may influence appetite.

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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.