Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete species prevalent in North America and Europe. It is a disease that is often left untreated because it may not be initially detected or even suspected, which could lead to strange symptoms that include joint problems, heart disease, and alterations in the nervous system.
Even though it is possible to treat this disease by using antibiotics for a few weeks, patients who miss the diagnosis have a high risk of suffering severe complications.
Could you be one of these patients?
Lyme disease causes strange symptoms, and these symptoms are divided into early and late, depending on how much time has passed since you were bitten by a disease-carrying tick.
Early Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The early symptoms of Lyme disease usually appear after three days and stick around for 30 days or more.
These symptoms include:
Prodromal syndrome, or precursory symptoms during the first couple of days. These can include malaise, fatigue, mild fever, and chills.
Bull’s eye rash or erythema migrans. It appears on the site of a tick bite, and it is an expanding red area that often becomes clear in the center, taking the shape of a bull’s eye.
Swollen lymph nodes
Late Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Late Lyme disease symptoms usually appear one or several months after the bite, but, in some cases, may show up after just a few days.
These symptoms include:
Erythema migrans appearing on other areas of the body
Unexplained joint pain and swelling of the knees, tendons, and muscles
Intermittent and unspecific bone pain
Neck stiffness and severe headache
Drooping of one side of the face (facial palsy)
Numbness and tingling in hands and feet
Irregular heartbeat and palpitations
Dizziness and shortness of breath
Lyme Disease Can Mimic Other Chronic Illnesses
Lyme disease affects millions of people, and this trend is likely to increase in the following years due to shifts in our weather patterns.
Moreover, statistics show that most of these infections become chronic, and that is because many patients do not display the characteristic bull’s eye rash and sometimes may not realize they have Lyme. Thus, they don’t look for medical attention until they begin experiencing late symptoms.
In the case of chronic Lyme disease, there are many symptoms that could likely misguide doctors to an incorrect diagnosis.
For example, headache and neck stiffness are often associated with meningitis, and the source of pain and swelling in the joints can be difficult to trace in seniors and patients who are overweight.
Heart palpitations and facial palsy are often alarming and may lead patients to the emergency room, but with no clear diagnosis in the end. Furthermore, tingling in the hands and feet can be passed off as having kept them in one position for too long, temporarily cutting off the circulation.
Moreover, doctors can be driven by false positives and continue to investigate your case and strange symptoms for a very long time before considering Lyme disease as a possibility. This is why many cases remain hidden for such a long time.
Patients with Lyme disease and erythema migrans are treated based on clinical diagnosis, but if you didn’t develop or didn’t see a bull’s eye, the most appropriate tests are antibody-based tests.
These become more sensitive as the disease progresses, so if you’ve had these strange symptoms for a long time, there’s a very high chance that antibody-based tests will detect the disease and contribute to your diagnosis and treatment.