What Does Lyme Disease Do to a Person?

Medically Reviewed on 1/19/2022
What Does Lyme Disease Do to a Person?
Depending on the stage of infection, Lyme disease may affect a person in the following ways.

Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is spread by the bite of an infected black-legged tick, which is more common during the spring and summer seasons.

Lyme disease is not a life-threatening disease. However, it may persist in the patient for a few months to years, causing symptoms that vary due to the stage and period of the infection, and the affected regions of the body.

Stage 1: Early localized Lyme disease

Early localized Lyme disease develops within a span of one to four weeks following a tick bite. The infection is confined to the site of the bite.

Symptoms of stage 1 Lyme disease include:

Stage 2: Early disseminated Lyme disease

The infection develops within one to four months and infection begins to spread in the body. 

Some patients may not develop any symptoms in the early stages, which means they have not been treated for the infection. This leads to the progression of the disease affecting major systems in the body, such as the skin, joints, brain system, and heart.

Symptoms of stage 2 Lyme disease include:

  • Circular rash spreads to other regions of the skin indicating the internal spread of the infection in those areas
  • Severe headaches and stiffness in the neck
  • Fainting
  • Facial palsy (drooping of the face on one side)
  • Rapid and irregular heartbeat and serious heart issues (Lyme carditis)
  • Breathlessness
  • Inflammation and swelling of the joints (arthritis)
  • Pain in the muscles and tendons
  • Pain in the nerves
  • Tingling and numbness in the fingers and toes
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Memory impairment
  • Eye problems (conjunctivitis)

Stage 3: Late disseminated Lyme disease

This stage is seen months to years after being infected, and the bacteria have spread throughout the body.

This is the last and more serious stage of the disease that occurs due to a lack of treatment in the early stages. Major systems, such as joints, nerves, and the brain, could be damaged.

Symptoms of stage 3 Lyme disease include:

  • Knee arthritis is the most common kind of arthritis
    • Chronic Lyme arthritis, which causes repeated bouts of swelling, redness, and fluid accumulation in one or more joints that can last up to six months at a time, affects a limited number of people
  • Being unable to regulate one's facial muscles (facial palsy)
  • Hand, foot, or back numbness and tingling
  • Memory, mood, or sleep issues, as well as difficulty communicating
  • Heart issues are uncommon but can arise months or even years after being bitten by an infected tick
    • The most serious cardiac issues, such as inflammation of the structures around the heart (pericarditis), frequently heal with no long-term consequences, but heart issues are sometimes the first symptom of Lyme disease in a person

How to diagnose Lyme disease

The diagnosis of Lyme disease is not easy. Infection-carrying ticks are fewer in number, and their bites are usually not painful. This makes it difficult for the patients to recollect being bitten by the ticks. Furthermore, most of the symptoms are shared by different disorders.

  • If you locate a tick in your skin, you should remove it immediately with tweezers making sure the entire tick is extracted.
  • Wait a few days to see if any symptoms appear. If they do, you must contact your primary care physician and discuss your symptoms.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you have been ill for four weeks or longer. The doctor will examine the bite, search for a rash, and order blood tests to determine the presence of Lyme disease.

Special testing may be required for those who have joint swelling or nervous system disorders. The doctor may need to draw fluid from the swollen joint or the spine to look for signs of the illness.

However, these are not always required to make a diagnosis. They frequently produce false findings, particularly in early-stage Lyme disease.

What are the treatment options for Lyme disease?

Lyme disease of all stages is treated with antibiotics.

  • During the early stages of Lyme disease (stages I and II), the patients who are treated with antibiotics typically recover swiftly and fully. Doxycycline, amoxicillin, and cefuroxime antibiotics are administered orally for 14 to 21 days. In the event of meningitis or other nerve-related issues, the patient will be administered intravenous ceftriaxone for 14 days.
  • Patients with late disseminated Lyme disease (stage III) are prescribed the same antibiotics, doxycycline, amoxicillin, and cefuroxime, to take orally for 28 days. Other antibiotics could be prescribed depending on the condition of the patient. In the event of nervous system involvement, intravenous ceftriaxone or penicillin will be administered to the patient for two to four weeks.

Patients suffering from certain neurologic or cardiac illnesses may require special care.

If you suspect you have Lyme disease, you should consult your doctor immediately. Prevention and education are the most effective treatments for the disease.


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Medically Reviewed on 1/19/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lyme Disease. https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/signs_symptoms/index.html

Washington State Department of Health. Lyme Disease. https://www.doh.wa.gov/youandyourfamily/illnessanddisease/lymedisease