Recovery From Lyme Disease: What to Expect
Lyme disease can develop in people who are bitten by a tick that carries Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacterium from the spirochete class. The tick bite does not lead to Lyme disease every time or in every person, but the diagnosis is confirmed in more than 450,000 people a year. Lyme disease treatment with antibiotics is successful most of the time, but the disease lingers sometimes. People with early stage Lyme disease may recover in a few weeks with treatment, but recovery time may be as long as six months for late stage Lyme disease. Here’s what you might expect with Lyme disease recovery.
If you see a round or oval rash with a “bulls-eye” on your body, that can be a sign of Lyme disease, but not everyone develops or notices the rash. That makes Lyme disease easy to overlook, but treatment is more likely to be simple and effective in the early stages of infection compared to later stages.
Treatment by stage is as follows:
Early localized Lyme disease
This stage of the disease lasts 1 to 4 weeks. If you notice the rash and see a doctor right away, you may not develop symptoms. Treatment is a two-week course of antibiotics, usually doxycycline, though the healthcare professional may prescribe amoxicillin or another antibiotic to children and people who are pregnant or nursing.
If you have symptoms, they are similar to the flu: fatigue, achiness, chills and fever. You may have a stiff neck or swollen lymph nodes. Because these symptoms are so common, Lyme disease can be hard to diagnose. If you have been in the woods or another area that could have a tick infestation, tell your doctor. In this early stage of Lyme disease, your recovery time will be about two weeks and you should have no lingering effects.
Early disseminated Lyme disease
The second stage of Lyme disease covers the period from 1e to 4 months after the tick bite. As the infection spreads, you may get additional rashes on your body. Your limbs may feel weak or numb, and you could develop Bell’s palsy, when the muscles of your face won’t move. (Bell’s palsy is usually temporary.)
Treatment for this stage of Lyme disease is a 10 to 21 day course of antibiotics, which should clear up the infection and symptoms.
Late persistent Lyme disease
If Lyme disease continues without a diagnosis, you can develop serious symptoms months or even years after the tick bite. This is late persistent Lyme disease. One common symptom is arthritis of the knee, which sometimes spreads to other joints. Symptom flares can last as long as six months.
You may have some of the same symptoms as early disseminated Lyme disease, including fatigue, memory problems, and inability to control your facial muscles. You may also have heart palpitations. Rarely, people develop meningitis. You may have a headache and stiff neck, but meningitis from Lyme disease is not fatal.
Recovery from late stage Lyme disease takes 4 to 6 weeks for most people. You will take oral antibiotics for about a month. After a month, if you still have symptoms, especially neurological symptoms like memory loss, your doctor may give you antibiotics through an intravenous (IV) drip.
If the infection affects your heart, you may need a temporary pacemaker. Very rarely, heart problems from Lyme disease can be fatal.
The majority of people, about 90%, recover fully from late stage Lyme disease. Arthritis from Lyme disease can sometimes cause permanent joint damage, but this is not common.
Some people continue to have symptoms six months or more after completing treatment for Lyme disease. This is post-treatment lyme disease, or PTLD. It may be due to an autoimmune response, even if the infection itself is gone. People with PTLD continue to experience fatigue, joint pain, and sleep and cognitive problems.
Currently there are no treatments to cure PTLD, and taking more antibiotics will not help. There is new research that the antibiotic azlocillin, which is approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), eradicates the bacteria in mice and may help with post-treatment Lyme disease symptoms, but it does not have FDA approval for use in humans at this time. Most patients eventually recover from PTLD, though it can take months.
In 2020, research showed that some herbal medicines killed Lyme disease bacteria in test tubes. One of them, Cryptolepis sanguinolenta extract, made from a plant found in Africa and used in traditional medicine, completely killed the bacteria even more effectively than doxycycline, the most common antibiotic for Lyme disease treatment.
Even though plants are natural, it does not mean substances from the plant are safe to ingest. If you are considering using herbal medicine for Lyme disease, consult with a qualified medical professional who can advise you about potential side effects and dosages.