Lyme Disease

Feeling sick after a weekend hike? That may be caused by an infection from a tick bite.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by deer ticks. If caught early, it is easily treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system, causing more serious symptoms that can be difficult to cure.

People become infected when they are bitten by an infected tick. Ticks live in wooded areas and fields. People who spend time outdoors or who have pets who get into grassy areas are at greater risk of getting tick-borne diseases. Ticks can crawl on your clothes or body for hours before attaching to the skin.

Every year, approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the agency estimates the real number of diagnosed cases may be as much as 10 times higher, or about 300,000.


Lyme disease can affect the skin, causing a rash, the nervous system, the tissues of the heart or it can cause arthritis. The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease typically occur in three stages.

Early symptoms resemble a mild flu and may include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • A red skin rash in the shape of a bull’s eye may appear, within the month, at the site of the bite. 

If untreated, new symptoms of a Lyme infection may appear over the course of several weeks. These include:

  • Heart and nervous system issues
  • Bell’s palsy (paralysis on one or both sides of the face)
  • Severe headache and neck stiffness due to inflammation (meningitis)
  • Pain and swelling in the large joints
  • Shooting pains causing sleep problems
  • Heart palpitations

Late-stage infection may occur months or years after the bite. Symptoms may include:

  • Arthritis, particularly in the knees
  • Neurological issues, such as shooting pains, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Weakness
  • Memory and concentration problems 


Lyme disease is diagnosed based on the presence of flu-like symptoms, rash and possibility of exposure to infected ticks. Laboratory tests that find certain antibodies in your blood can help to confirm the diagnosis. However, these may be undetectable in the early stage of the infection.


Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics such as doxycycline, amoxicillin or cefuroxime, especially when caught early. Most people who are diagnosed and start treatment early improve quickly. If not, or if you're having later-stage symptoms, your doctor may need to give antibiotics directly into a vein (IV infusion). This allows the medicine to start working immediately. 

Self Care

Most people who are treated with antibiotics early make a quick and complete recovery. However, if you've been treated for Lyme disease and still don't feel well, talk to your doctor.

When it comes to Lyme disease, prevention is key. Apply insect repellent containing at least 20% DEET before spending time outdoors and check yourself for ticks after any activity that might expose you.

If you see a tick on your body, use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers to grasp it as close to your skin as possible, pull it out with a smooth, steady motion to ensure the whole tick is removed, then wash the area with soap and water. The odds of getting Lyme disease are lower if the tick is removed as soon as possible.

Stay in the Know. Live in the Yes.

Get involved with the arthritis community. Tell us a little about yourself and, based on your interests, you’ll receive emails packed with the latest information and resources to live your best life and connect with others.