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Detecting Lyme Disease Early: Why It's So Important


Lyme disease, or Lyme borreliosis, is caused by bacteria of the Borrelia type. It is the most common disease spread by ticks in the Northern Hemisphere and affects around 300,000 people in the United States alone. It’s caused when infected ticks bite humans and stay attached to the skin for 36 to 48 hours.

Most people can’t feel when a tick bites and stays attached to them. The bites are typically painless and continue to remain so even after the tick stops drinking and falls off the skin. However, some people are sensitive or allergic to tick bites and can develop a rash near the bite, shortness of breath, numbness, swelling, or paralysis (such as neck stiffness).

While Lyme disease infection can be relatively rare, especially if precautions are taken before and after exposure to tick bites, the earlier your doctor can detect it, the better. The treatment itself can take several weeks of antibiotic treatment. Some people develop muscle and joint pain or a fever from the treatment, which can last for one or two days. However, for those who develop persistent symptoms, long-term antibiotic therapy isn’t useful.

Early infection will cause visible symptoms near the bite site, such as a bulls-eye lesion around the area. This rash, called erythema chronicum migrans (EM) develops in around 70 to 80% of those infected. In early stages, people can also experience flu-like symptoms, such as muscle soreness, fever, headache, and fatigue.

In later stages, if the infection goes untreated, EM may develop at sites around the body that have no relation to the initial bite. Additionally, in European patients, a purplish lump has been known to grow on the ear, nipple, or scrotum. Some people also develop acute neurological problems, called neuroborreliosis, in about 10 to 15% of untreated people. Neuroborreliosis can cause facial palsy and meningitis, which can lead to severe headaches, neck stiffness, and sensitivity to light. Any inflammation of the spinal cord’s nerve roots can also cause shooting pains and abnormal skin sensations. Mild encephalitis can also develop, which can lead to memory loss, mood changes, and sleep disturbances.

Those who go the longest without treatment, several months after the bite, can develop severe and chronic symptoms that affect different systems in the body, including the brain, joints, heart, eyes, and nerves. Some people experience permanent impairment of motor or sensory function of the lower body. In addition to causing chronic encephalomyelitis, in some cases, Lyme disease can cause psychosis, which is often misdiagnosed as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. People can also develop a type of arthritis, which can occur in the joints of the ankles, elbows, shoulders, wrists, and hips.

Doctors can diagnose Lyme disease clinically based on objective physical findings or a history of possible exposure to infected ticks. However, they might also use serological blood tests. If a person is in late-stage Lyme disease, diagnosis is often complicated by the multitude of different symptoms that often resemble other conditions or diseases. Lyme disease has often been misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, HIV, or other autoimmune and neurodegenerative conditions.

If you’ve been hiking recently, make sure to check yourself and your loved ones for any signs of ticks. If you suspect you may have contracted Lyme disease, don’t hesitate to call us. Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine is one of the Southwest’s most diversified integrative medical center. Our team is dedicated to reversing chronic illnesses, and we treat everything from cancer to Lyme disease. At our Scottsdale Lyme disease treatment center, our physician Martha Grout, MD, and the entire medical team there is experienced with treating the condition. Let us see what we can do for you. Contact us at (480) 418-0220 or fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation today.