Lyme Disease: All You Need to Know

Lyme disease. No, we’re not talking about a summer citrus fruit here. It’s actually a pretty infectious disease from bacteria.

I’m sure some of you know about this condition. Quite a number of celebrities are speaking up about it, most notably Yolanda Foster from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Other celebrities who are battling this illness include Avril Lavigne, Ben Stiller, Bella Hadid, and Ashley Olsen.

It is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected ticks. Specific ticks that can carry this disease are deer ticks and western black-legged ticks. Infections are most common during spring and early summer. Lyme disease is actually the most common disease spread by ticks in the northern hemisphere. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention appraise that around 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease in the United States every year.

The disease was first made known in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut. Children living in this community became afflicted with what they first thought of as rheumatoid arthritis. In 1982, researchers were finally able to identify the bacteria that caused the condition.  

This disease affects people of all ages. It is particularly common in children, older adults, and those whose jobs involve being outdoors for a long period of time.

So if ever you’re in wooded areas, gardens, or even neighborhood parks, be careful to avoid getting any tick bites!

Lyme Disease Symptoms

Its typical symptoms include fever, headaches, muscle soreness, and fatigue. The most telltale sign that you have this is a distinct skin rash. Some of these rashes are easy to spot, as they look like a bull’s-eye. Other rashes have raised red borders around the center. The rash usually shows up three to thirty days after being bitten.

However, not all people with Lyme disease get a rash. So if you suddenly feel any of the other symptoms and can’t think of any reason why you’re feeling that way, it’s best to get a checkup to make sure.

If you refuse to have yourself checked and you actually do have Lyme disease, more serious symptoms will develop weeks, months, or even years later on. Some of these include pain and swelling in the joints (also called inflammatory arthritis), numbness and pain in your limbs, paralysis of facial muscles, memory problems, and difficulty in concentrating.

Other really serious symptoms involve inflammation of the heart muscle, inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart, heart, block, and even heart failure. This disease also affects the brain by inflaming the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (also known as meningitis).

Diagnosis of the Disease

Many people find that they sometimes get misdiagnosed based on the symptoms they show. Especially if you don’t see a rash, most doctors might not recognize the illness for what it is. Some incorrect diagnosis include chronic fatigue syndrome or depression. That’s why if you exhibit these symptoms, make sure to check with a Lyme disease specialist to be sure.

There are a variety of methods to diagnose this condition. It usually depends on its stage. During early Lyme disease, physicians perform a physical exam and order tests to rule out other potential problems with the nervous system, joints, and the heart.

Antibody tests are useful during the later stages of the illness. Also, the most common diagnostic tests for this condition are indirect ones. This means the tests measure the patient’s antibody response to the infection, and not the infection itself. The most reliable test to confirm the presence of the condition is the Western Blot test.

Treating Lyme Disease

If you are still in the early stages of this condition, antibiotics are able to treat it completely and rapidly. These can come in tablet form, capsule form, or liquid form. Most people usually go through a two- to four-week course. Patients have to make sure to fully complete the course, even if you feel better earlier. This ensures that all bacteria are killed in your body.

However, if it took a while for you to be diagnosed with the condition and your symptoms are a bit more severe, you will be referred to a specialist for antibiotic injections or intravenous antibiotics.

Note that some antibiotics used to treat Lyme disease can make your skin sensitive to sunlight. Make sure to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun. Also, don’t use sunbeds or tanning beds as you are going through treatment.

If you have later-stage joint pain, pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medicine can help soothe symptoms. There is also an in-office procedure by the name of arthrocentesis. This withdraws fluid from swollen joints. Some scientists believe that chronic joint inflammation can still be triggered by the infection even if the Lyme bacteria has been successfully eradicated from the body.

Prevention

Currently, there are still no vaccines available for the prevention of Lyme disease. The best way to prevent this illness is to be aware of the risks, especially when you visit areas where ticks may most likely reside.

If you are going to such places, make sure to wear shirts with long sleeves. Pants are a better option as well to ensure full coverage. Light-colored clothing are your best choice to make sure that if a tick does fall on you, you can easily spot it. Applying bug repellent with DEET to areas of the skin that are exposed helps as well.

When you are already out walking, make sure to stick to footpaths and avoid areas with a lot of long grass or bushes.

At the end of the day, after your walk, make sure to fully examine yourself, kids, and pets for ticks. Don’t forget to thoroughly look on your head, neck, and even skin folds. You never know where a tick can lodge itself.

If you do see a tick, use tweezers to remove it from the skin. Place the tick in a closed container. Then give it to health professionals for identification.

When you get home, remove all your clothes and bathe thoroughly. Make sure to wash the entire body, from head to toe. This prevents tick bites and the transmission of Lyme disease.

Kate B. Forsyth is a writer for Be Healthy Today, who specializes in health and nutrition. Her passion is to help people get an overall transformation of health that lasts a lifetime. In her blog posts, she goes beyond research by providing health-concerned citizens doable and simple tricks to achieve a healthier lifestyle.

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