How Long Does Lyme Disease Last?

Lyme disease is one of the most common infections transmitted by ticks. Black-legged ticks and deer ticks are the disease carriers, and the illness is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which ticks commonly pick up from infected mice and deer.

Once it latches onto a human’s skin, a tick takes between 24 and 48 hours to pass the infection on. Transmission is done through the tick’s bite. Symptoms of the early Lyme disease take between 3 and 30 days to develop with the most common early symptom being the “bull’s eye” rash around the bite.

How long does Lyme disease last? If treated in time, it usually goes away after two to three weeks of therapy. However, some patients develop chronic Lyme disease even after treatment. Doctors and scientists still don’t know why this happens. Keep reading for more on Lyme’s disease, symptoms, and treatment options.

Symptoms

The symptoms of Lyme disease depend on the progression of the infection. There are three stages – early localized disease, early disseminated disease, and late disseminated disease. Here’s a brief overview of the symptoms characteristic of each of the stages.

  • Early localized Lyme disease. The first symptoms in this stage normally take one to two weeks to show up, though they can appear anywhere between 3 and 30 days after the bite. The “bull’s eye” rash around the place of the bite is the most common symptom. It is red in the center, with a clear spot around it and a red “halo” around the edges. In some patients it can be solid red. It doesn’t itch or hurt. Some bitten people don’t have it, making early diagnosis harder. If untreated, the rash goes away on its own after four weeks.
  • Early disseminated Lyme disease. This disease, if untreated, takes several weeks to advance to this stage. The infected person might experience fatigue, impaired vision, swollen lymph nodes, chills, muscle and joint pain, fever, and headaches. The bull’s eye may appear in areas other than around the bite. Additional symptoms may include tingling, numbness, and Bell’s palsy. Some patients may develop meningitis, as well as disturbances in cardiac conduction.
  • Late disseminated Lyme disease. This phase might take months or even years to develop. Common symptoms include an inability to focus, severe headaches, loss of short-term memory, numbness in the limbs, arthritis, brain fog, difficulties holding a conversation, arrhythmia, severe headaches, and various brain disorders.

Diagnosis

When you go to the doctor’s, you will first go through a physical exam. After that, you might be required to take one of several tests commonly used to diagnose the Lyme disease. These include:

  • Polymerase chain reaction. The PCR test is used to check for the presence of arthritis and other symptoms connected to the nervous system.
  • Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, also called ELISA, is a test used to find Borrelia burgdorferi antibodies.
  • Western blot is a test commonly used to confirm the results found in an ELISA test. It is used for a more detailed insight into the patient’s state.

Treatment

Like with any other disease, the earlier it is discovered and treated, the better. However, with Lyme’s, it can take a while to discover the illness, as not all patients have the characteristic rash in the initial phase. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics, with courses typically lasting between 14 and 21 days. The most frequently prescribed medications are:

  • Amoxicillin and cefuroxime. These are commonly prescribed to little children, women who are breastfeeding or nursing, and adults.
  • This is prevalently used for children aged eight and over, and adults.

Chronic Lyme Disease

Some patients develop what is called chronic Lyme disease even after they’ve received the antibiotics treatment. This happens in approximately 10 to 20 percent of cases. It’s unknown why this happens or what exactly causes the symptoms.

How long does Lyme disease last if it develops into chronic Lyme disease? Usually, the condition subsides after 6 to 12 months. However, in some patients, it can linger on for years.

Symptoms

The symptoms linked to chronic Lyme’s are similar to the ones experienced in the earlier stages. That being said, they can be milder, the same, or more intense than they’ve been before the treatment. Also, they might manifest episodically. The most common ones include trouble sleeping, pain in muscles and joints, problems with short-term memory, problems with speech, decreased concentration, general pain, and fatigue.

Diagnosis and Treatment

While the ELISA, Western blot, and PCR tests are used to determine the presence of the Lyme disease, the chronic form of this disease require further tests. In order to determine what parts of your body are affected and the level of damage chronic Lyme’s has caused, you might need to undergo tests such as:

  • In case you’re experiencing neurological symptoms, you might have to take an MRI.
  • Spinal tap. This test is used to examine your cerebrospinal fluid and check for symptoms linked to the nervous system.
  • Echocardiogram and electrocardiogram. These tests are used to check heart health.

Complications

Persistent muscle and joint pains, as well as memory and conversation problems can seriously affect the lives of the patients suffering from chronic Lyme disease. Limited mobility and cognitive problems can also cause patients significant amounts of emotional stress.

Some patients with chronic Lyme’s turn to alternative medicine and experimental therapy methods. This route is risky and not recommended. There’s a chance these alternative treatments can worsen the existing problems or even cause new ones.

Risk Factors

While all patients diagnosed with Lyme’s are at risk, patients who have been bitten by a diseased tick run a higher risk of developing chronic Lyme disease. Patients who haven’t been treated with the recommended antibiotics are at a higher risk. That being said, there is no way to determine who will and who will not develop the chronic form of Lyme’s.

Prevention

While there is no way to prevent the onset of chronic Lyme’s, there are many ways to minimize the chances of contracting Lyme’s disease in the first place.

To prevent the bite, you should wear insect repellant on your exposed skin and clothes, avoid walking in tall grass, always change your clothes after hiking or walking, and make sure to thoroughly check yourself and your pet for ticks after being outdoors.

If you get bitten, go to the doctor’s as soon as possible. Learn the symptoms of stage one Lyme disease and call your doctor if you notice anything suspicious.

Final Thoughts

Lyme disease is usually not dangerous. Typically, it goes away, leaving no trace after a 14 to 21-day treatment with antibiotics. However, some 10 to 20 percent of patients develop chronic Lyme disease, a condition that may last six to twelve months or even more. Chronic Lyme’s can seriously worsen the quality of life of those suffering from it. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to seek help as soon as you detect the symptoms.

 

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/index.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5029759/
https://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-pcr-polymerase-chain-reaction
https://www.immunology.org/public-information/bitesized-immunology/experimental-techniques/enzyme-linked-immunosorbent-assay
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3456489/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4477530/
https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/lumbar-puncture/about/pac-20394631

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