Dr. M.J. Bazos, Patient Handout

About Your Diagnosis

Lyme disease (LD) can affect many parts of the body including the skin, nerves, brain, heart and joints. Lyme disease is a curable infection caused by a microorganism called Borrelia burgdorferi. This organism is carried and spread to individuals by certain types of ticks. However, only half of the individuals who have LD actually remember being bitten by a tick. Lyme disease is mainly present in certain regions of the United States including the Northeast, the Midwest (mainly in Wisconsin and Minnesota), and along the West Coast. Although LD is an infection, you cannot catch it from an individual who already has it. Lyme disease is usually diagnosed by the types of symptoms it causes. A blood test may help confirm the diagnosis, but it is not 100% accurate. Therefore, Lyme tests should not be relied upon to make the diagnosis unless you have symptoms that are very likely caused by LD.

Living With Your Diagnosis
Lyme disease often occurs in stages, and individuals may only have one or a few of the symptoms before it is diagnosed and treated. Treatment of LD cures the infection and prevents progression of the disease. Some of the earliest symptoms of LD are a rash and flulike symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle and joint aches, fatigue, headache, and enlarged lymph glands. The rash occurs at the site of the tick bite (often on the armpit, groin, or thigh) and is usually raised or flat, and red with a white area in the center. A later stage of LD affects the brain, nerves, and heart. The infection can cause meningitis, headache, weakness in the face, arm, and legs, or nerve pain in the arms and legs. Infections in the heart can cause inflammation and heart rhythm changes, causing fluttering in the chest, chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or fainting. The last stage of LD occurs months after the infection. In this stage arthritis develops, causing attacks of pain, swelling, and stiffness in joints, especially the knee. Fatigue may persist throughout the stages of LD.

Because LD is an infection, it is treated with antibiotics. Depending on the stage of the disease or the types of symptoms being treated, the antibiotics may be given by mouth or by vein. Unfortunately, despite treatment, some individuals with LD have persistent fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, and joint pain. These symptoms are not caused by an ongoing infection and do not improve with further antibiotic therapy. While the infection is being treated with antibiotics, symptoms such as pain can be treated with acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Potential side effects of NSAIDs include stomach upset, ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, difficulty hearing, and rash. Prevention of LD can be accomplished by reducing your risk of exposure to ticks when you are in areas where LD is known to occur. Precautions include using good insect repellents (containing “DEET”), wearing long sleeves and pants, tucking pant legs into socks, wearing closed shoes rather than sandals or loafers, brushing off clothes, and inspecting for ticks. If a tick becomes attached, it should be removed with a tweezers by grasping the tick close to the skin and gently pulling it out.

The DOs
• Take your medicines as prescribed.
• Ask your doctor which over-the-counter medications you may take with your prescription medications.
• Take preventive measures to avoid tick exposure.

The DON’Ts
• Wait to see whether side effects from medications will go away.

When to Call Your Doctor
• You experience any medication side effects.
• The treatment is not decreasing your symptoms in a reasonable amount of time.
• You have new or unexplained symptoms.