Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease You May Not Know

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted from the bite of an infected, black-legged tick. In recent years, Lyme has been thrust into the spotlight in large part due to the advocacy efforts of celebrities like TV personality Yolanda Hadid and fashion designer Ally Hilfiger.

While you may have heard of the disease, you may not know that Lyme is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness (an illness transmitted by infected arthropods such as mosquitoes or ticks) in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Each year, there are an estimated 329,000 new cases of Lyme disease. By comparison, this is more than the annual incidences of invasive breast cancer or HIV, yet many people remain unaware of Lyme disease symptoms.

The best chance to cure Lyme disease is when the infection is caught in its early stages. When left untreated or a standard antibiotic regimen is insufficient, Lyme disease can lead to a host of long-term, debilitating symptoms.

The bull’s-eye rash is the early sign most commonly associated with Lyme disease, but it’s not always the telltale indicator. Look for these other lesser-known signs and symptoms of Lyme disease so you can identify them early and get on the road to recovery as soon as possible.

Bull’s-eye Rash

When people think of contracting Lyme disease, the bull’s-eye rash, known medically as “classic” erythema migrans rash, comes to mind. In reality, fewer than half of all people who’ve been bitten by a Lyme disease-carrying tick will develop the signature rash. On the other hand, in the instances where the bull’s-eye rash does appear, that is the telltale sign you’ve acquired the infection, and you need to seek treatment right away. 

The takeaway? If you’re not feeling well, and you’ve been in a potentially high-risk area or have a known tick bite, consult with your doctor about the possibility of contracting Lyme disease, regardless of whether you develop a bull’s-eye rash or not.

Flu-like Symptoms

The early symptoms of Lyme disease may differ from one person to another; however, in many cases a range of flu-like symptoms can occur. These symptoms include fever, chills, fatigue, muscle aches and pains, sweats, nausea, headache, joint pain, and more.

Because the early symptoms of Lyme disease can imitate the flu, many people may delay seeing a doctor. After all, the flu often goes away with plenty of rest and hydration. But Lyme disease is a sneaky illness that doesn't get better with rest or fluids, and the symptoms may continue to persist, leaving you feeling miserable.

If you experience flu-like symptoms that don’t seem to let up, especially during the warmer months of the year, consult with your doctor so he or she can assess your health history and evaluate your risk of exposure to tick-borne infections.

Bell’s Palsy

In Bell’s palsy, the muscles on one side of the face temporarily weaken and give the appearance of drooping. The condition is typically temporary and can have several causes, including pregnancy, diabetes or a viral infection. It can also be an indicator of Lyme disease. Always seek medical attention for any facial drooping or paralysis, as it can also be the sign of a stroke.

Lyme Carditis

The bacteria that cause Lyme disease can enter into different organs and tissues of the body. In Lyme carditis, the bacteria invade the heart and interfere with the organ’s ability to send electrical signals to its upper and lower chambers, a process that controls the beating of the heart. Symptoms include heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting or light-headedness.

Lyme carditis occurs in approximately 1% of the Lyme population, according to the CDC. Most patients with Lyme carditis also have other symptoms of Lyme disease. Although the percentage of people who get Lyme carditis may be small, the condition can worsen quickly and potentially be deadly without prompt medical care. 

Additional Lyme Disease Symptoms

Along with these primary symptoms of Lyme disease, talk to your doctor if you could be at risk for Lyme and have experienced any of these additional symptoms:

In general, the symptoms of Lyme disease aren’t always so clear-cut and may mimic those of other illnesses. Ultimately, early detection of Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections is vital for prompt treatment and improving the likelihood of a successful recovery.

A small tick can have a big impact on your health. Educate yourself with as much information as possible and find a medical practitioner who will listen to your symptoms so you can get the care you need.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Jul 17
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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