Lyme's Disease ~ The Stage of Symptoms

Category: Lyme's Disease Published on Wednesday, 25 June 2008 Written by Yong Tsai, MD

As we are aware, being bitten by an infected deer tick is the essential prerequisite for Lyme’s Disease. However, only 30% of people bitten by a tick actually realize that this has occurred.

This lack of awareness from the remaining 70% of people bitten by ticks, can make the key step of early diagnosis of Lyme’s disease more difficult due to the missing link between the patient’s symptoms and history.

A classic case of Lyme’s disease progresses in three stages: 1, 2, & 3. Although these stages can be imperfect; symptoms can overlap and many patients may not experience all three stages. Nevertheless, the concept of staging is still a useful way to explain the natural course of the disease.

The first stage: acute illness caused by the local spread of spirochete (Lyme’s bacteria) in the skin tissue, with flu-like symptoms. This expanding rash (called erythema migrans, or EM) typically occurs in 80-90% of all LD cases, and radiates from the site of the tick bite and appears within an average 3 to 30 days. Unfortunately, this stage can go undetected due to the fact the rash can occur in an unnoticeable location with only minimal discomfort.

The second stage: continued spread of the LD spirochete throughout the body, resulting in a distant skin rash, and possible fever, fatigue, joint pain, neck achiness and stiffness, tingling or numbness of the extremities, irregular heartbeat or facial palsy.

The third stage: chronic, more severe, and potentially debilitating with severe headaches, painful and swollen joints, cardiac abnormalities, and disabling neurological disorders such as memory and concentration impairment, confusion or other neurological symptoms.

Because early treatment of LD with oral or IV antibiotics for 2-4 weeks almost always results in a full recovery and cure, it is crucial to inform your physician of any events that may have increased your risks of being bitten by a deer tick.

While there is currently no evidence to support the speculation that long-term antibiotic treatment may be more effective in treatment-resistant cases, some of these patients may benefit from extended courses. More complicated are occasional patients with late stage LD, who continue to have symptoms due to persistent inflammation and even autoimmunity, even while the LD bacteria has been destroyed.

If you think you have symptoms of LD, the most common being the EM rash, you should see your physician immediately and recall any recent activities that could have increased your risks of being bitten by a deer tick. Your doctor will order some serology testing such as ELISA or even Western blot to determine whether you are infected, and if so, antibiotic treatment should begin immediately.

With early treatment, the majority of Lyme’s disease can be cured. However the longer treatment is delayed, the lower the cure rate is.

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