Lyme Disease – Early Symptoms

by lmatthews on September 24, 2012

early lyme disease symptoms

Fever, lethargy and joint pain are all possible signs of Lyme disease.

In cases of Lyme disease early symptoms are not always seen or are often not recognized as a sign of infection. Differences exist in the early signs of Lyme disease across different countries, due to the nature of the particular strain of Borrelia transmitted by tick bite. So, for example, a European patient with Lyme disease may experience a flu-like illness that then subsides, followed by neurological problems several weeks or months later.

In contrast, a patient with Lyme disease in the US may see a bulls-eye rash that then disappears only to return a few weeks later along with symptoms such a joint pain. It is important to note that not all cases of Lyme disease are accompanied by a rash, flu-like illness, joint pain or cognitive symptoms and it is this variety that makes borreliosis so difficult for doctors to diagnose and treat.

How Common is the Lyme Disease Rash?

Statistics for the occurrence of the Lyme disease rash, erythema migrans, range from around 40% to 80% and constitute a major battle for some Lyme disease advocates who are concerned that reliance on this symptom alone means many remain undiagnosed for Lyme disease. Just as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) themselves have admitted that the number of reported cases of Lyme disease in the US likely only represents a small portion of the actual number of sufferers, it is extremely likely that many patients develop symptoms of Lyme disease without the distinctive rash and such under-reporting skews these figures.

Lyme Disease Rash – What to Look for

Where a rash does arise as an early symptom of Lyme disease it is usually centered on the location of the tick bite, or bites, and represents the dissemination of the borrelia bacteria through the skin and into the body in general. The Lyme disease rash may develop three days or so after a bite, or up to a month later, and can last up to around eight weeks. It may also disappear and then return at an entirely different site on the body or in multiple incidences. The rash is rarely itchy or painful and may not feel warm to the touch like other pruritis rashes such as nettle rash. This can mean that tick bites in hard to see places such as the back of the knees or on the scalp may simply go unnoticed, again skewing statistics about early Lyme disease symptoms.

Early Lyme Disease Symptoms


Aside from the distinctive Lyme disease rash, other early symptoms of Lyme disease include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • lethargy and fatigue
  • chills
  • joint aches and pains
  • muscle cramps and spasms
  • enlarged (swollen) lymph nodes

Where Lyme Disease Goes Untreated

Untreated Lyme disease can then progress into disseminated Lyme disease where systemic problems arise in the central and peripheral nervous system as well as in the heart, liver and other organs. The longer that Lyme disease goes untreated the more likely it is that significant tissue damage will occur and that permanent disability arises. In some cases, untreated Lyme disease may prove fatal, especially in those with pre-existing cardiac problems. Reports of Lyme disease-related deaths are uncommon, however, possibly due to poor recognition of the ways that the infection can compromise health and create chronic illness.

Lyme Disease Awareness

Recognizing early symptoms of Lyme disease can be difficult but is extremely helpful in regards to patients having access to efficacious treatment. The earlier an infection is diagnosed and treated with antibiotics the more likely it is to be eradicated quickly and cleanly, without lasting damage. Anyone who regularly comes into contact with ticks should be aware of the possible early symptoms of Lyme disease, especially if they live in an area known to be endemic for the infection.

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