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Lyme disease: Signs to watch for

If you have symptoms of Lyme disease, seek medical attention right away.

Ticks may be tiny—some as small as a sesame seed—but a bite from one of them can lead to big health problems.

Case in point: Lyme disease, an infection caused by a type of bacteria that is carried by blacklegged ticks. The infection can last weeks, months or even years unless it is effectively treated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Early symptoms

Symptoms from three to 30 days after a tick bite can include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Chills and fever.
  • Headache.
  • Pain in muscles and joints.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • A skin rash. The rash usually starts at the site of the tick bite. It may begin as a small red spot and grow larger. The center may fade, creating the appearance of a bull's-eye or ring. Or you may have many red patches that develop in different shapes and sizes around the body. The rash may burn, hurt or itch. Or you may not feel it at all.
Later symptoms

Symptoms from days to months after a tick bite can include:

  • Severe headache and neck stiffness.
  • Numbness and pain in the hands or feet.
  • Paralysis of facial muscles, usually on one side of the face.  
  • A slow or irregular heartbeat.
  • Arthritis with extreme joint pain and swelling, usually in one or more of the large joints (especially the knees).
  • On-and-off pain in the muscles, bones, joints and tendons.
  • Short-term memory problems.
Taking action

If you feel sick after a tick bite or develop a rash at the site of a tick bite, contact your doctor right away. Also call your doctor if you develop other symptoms of Lyme disease.

Early Lyme disease responds very well to antibiotic treatment. Usually, two to four weeks of antibiotic treatment is enough to kill the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.

If a tick bites you and you remove it within 48 hours, your chances of developing Lyme disease are greatly reduced. That's because a tick usually needs 36 to 48 hours to transmit the bacteria that cause the illness, according to  CDC.

Additional source: American Academy of Family Physicians

Reviewed 1/2/2021

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