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Lyme Disease

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Lyme Disease


Lyme disease is a bacterial infection from a tick bite. It is passed from an infected deer tick that has attached and fed for more than 36 hours.


Lyme disease is caused by bacteria found in some deer ticks. The bacteria passes from the tick when it bites and feeds for a long time.

The bacteria can pass into the blood if the infection is not treated. This allows the bacteria to travel through the body and affect different areas.

Risk Factors

Things that may increase the risk of Lyme disease are:

  • Living in the northeastern, northwestern, mid-Atlantic, or upper north-central regions of the US, and northwestern California
  • Outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and gardening in areas/seasons with deer ticks
  • Living near or going to wooded, grassy areas
  • Working outdoors, such as surveying, landscaping, forestry, gardening, and utility company service work


The symptoms of Lyme disease will be different in each person. Some people will not have symptoms. Those who do may have mild or severe symptoms.

The first sign may be a red rash. The rash starts as a small red spot at the site of the tick bite. It will then spread over the next few days or weeks to form a circular or oval-shaped rash. Sometimes, the rash looks like a bull's eye with a red ring around a clear area with a red center. The rash may cover a small dime-sized area or a wide area of the body.

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Early Symptoms—3 to 30 Days After Tick Bite

  • A rash
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Lack of energy
  • Swollen glands

Widespread Early Symptoms—Days to Months After Tick Bite

  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Rashes on other parts of the body
  • Severe joint pain and swelling
  • Muscle, tendon, and bone pain
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Lightheadedness or shortness of breath
  • Numbness, shooting pain, or tingling of the hands and feet
  • Drooping of one or both sides of the face

Late Infection

Symptoms can develop months or years after the tick bite in untreated infections. These symptoms may be constant or come and go. They may include:

  • Painful inflammation of the joints—arthritis
  • Trouble with concentration or memory
  • Shooting pains, numbness, and tingling


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. You may be asked about any tick bite or exposure to places where ticks are present. The doctor may suspect Lyme disease in a person who has the classic bulls-eye rash.

The body may make antibodies to help fight the infection. A blood test will be done to look for these antibodies.


Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Treatment may last from 5 to 28 days. It depends on how severe the disease is.

Some people may have long lasting problems, such as arthritis. A treatment plan will be made to help manage it.


Avoid tick-infested areas when possible. To lower the risk of Lyme disease in tick-infested areas:

  • Wear light-colored clothing, and pants tucked into socks. Put clothes in the dryer for 20 minutes after use to kill off ticks.
  • Use tick repellents.
  • Check for ticks often. Properly remove any ticks. Consider taking a bath or shower when you are indoors.
  • Wash tick bites with soap and water after the tick is removed.

Be aware of the risk of Lyme disease in the area. Monitor any tick bites for a rash.

An antibiotic may be given after a tick bite in an area with a high risk of lyme disease. This treatment may be reserved for those at high risk of severe illness and a tick that has been in place for at least 36 hours.





  • Lyme disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
  • Lyme disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
  • Lyme disease. Family Doctor—American Academy of Physicians website. Available at:
  • Lyme disease. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at:
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.