Lyme disease: Symptoms and treatment
On this page
- Symptoms of Lyme disease
- If you become ill
- Diagnosing Lyme disease
- Treating Lyme disease
- Provincial and territorial resources
Symptoms of Lyme disease
Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease can vary from person to person after being bitten by a tick.
Lyme disease occurs in stages. The signs and symptoms of each stage can overlap. In some people, Lyme disease may present in a later stage without a history of prior signs or symptoms.
The most commonly reported sign of Lyme disease is an expanding skin rash that typically begins at the site of the tick bite. This rash is called erythema migrans. It slowly grows to more than 5 cm in diameter over several days, and can sometimes:
- be circular or oval-shaped
- look like a target or bull's eye
- go unnoticed, especially if it's on:
- dark skin
- a part of the body that's difficult to see
Some people may not develop a rash.
Other early signs and symptoms include:
- swollen lymph nodes
- muscle and joint aches
If left untreated, the infection could spread to the joints, heart and nervous system.
- Footnote a
For images 1,2,3,4:
Dr. John Aucott, Johns Hopkins University
- Footnote b
For image 5:
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Image Library
- Footnote c
For image 6:
Professor Gary Wormser, New York Medical College
Later symptoms of Lyme disease can appear days to months after an infected tick bite, and may include:
- more rashes
- severe headaches
- migratory pain that spreads in the:
- arthritis in the:
- thinking and reasoning symptoms, such as:
- memory loss
- inability to think clearly
Other later stage symptoms include:
- nerve pain, weakness, tingling or loss of sensation in limbs
- drooping of one or both sides of the face (facial paralysis or Bell's palsy)
- heart palpitations and an abnormal heartbeat
- swelling of the brain and spinal cord
- eye problems, such as pink-eye
In very rare cases, death could occur due to the complications involving an infection of the heart.
If you become ill
Early diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease can prevent complications. Consult your health care provider right away if you've been:
- bitten by a tick and develop symptoms of Lyme disease
- to an area where blacklegged ticks may be found and develop symptoms of Lyme disease
You may not feel a tick attach to your skin or notice being bitten by a tick because ticks are tiny and their bites are usually painless.
Tell your health care provider:
- where on your body the tick was attached
- how long you think the tick was attached to you
- where you were (city and province) at the time you were bitten by the tick or may have been exposed to ticks
Diagnosing Lyme disease
Diagnosing Lyme disease can be challenging as symptoms vary from person to person.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can be similar to other illnesses. A diagnosis of Lyme disease is based on:
- travel history
- blood tests, when required
- exposure to blacklegged ticks
Your health care provider will assess if you need a blood test. You usually won't need a blood test if you:
- have the characteristic expanding rash and
- were exposed to blacklegged ticks
Only get tested by a licensed public health laboratory. Testing by private, non-licensed laboratories may not be reliable.
Treating Lyme disease
Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. The earlier you receive treatment for Lyme disease, the greater the chance of a successful recovery.
Some people who are treated for Lyme disease may continue to have symptoms after treatment. The cause of these symptoms isn't currently clear, but continued antibiotic treatment:
- may produce unwanted side effects
- hasn't been shown to improve symptoms or outcomes
Provincial and territorial resources
For local information on Lyme disease, consult your provincial or territorial public health authority:
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