What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial illness and inflammatory disease that spreads through tick bites. Deer ticks house the spirochete bacterium (Borellia burgdorferi) in their stomachs. When one of these ticks bites the human skin, it may pass the bacteria into the body. These ticks tend to be attracted to creases in the body, so Lyme disease most often appears in armpits, the nape of the neck, and/or the backs of knees. Lyme disease has systemic implications and can cause abnormalities in the skin, heart, joints, and nervous system. It is important to begin Lyme disease treatment early.

 

More than 150,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control since 1982, making this an uncommon but serious condition. Cases have been reported from every state, although most diagnoses are clustered in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and Pacific Coast.

If you think you have Lyme disease, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. This condition is notoriously difficult to diagnose, and several rounds of a Lyme disease test may be necessary. The only way to start the process is to schedule the first appointment, and visiting our Mt. Vernon clinic can set you on the road to treatment.

 

Symptoms and Phases

Lyme disease symptoms are extremely difficult to identify. The most widely known symptom a red bull’s eye welt on the skin, which develops in the disease’s early stages. That said, this is not always present, and many Lyme disease symptoms are common phenomena, like fatigue and joint pain. It is important to receive a diagnostic Lyme disease test as soon as you think you may have the condition.

There are three phases to the disease, each with its own set of symptoms. See below to learn more about Lyme disease’s progression in the body.

  • Early Localized Phase. During this initial phase, the skin around the bite develops an expanding ring of redness. The ring may have a bull’s eye appearance with a bright red outer ring surrounding clear skin in the center. Most people don’t remember being bitten by a tick. More than one in four patients never gets a rash. The skin redness may be accompanied by fatigue, chills, muscle and joint stiffness, swollen lymph nodes, and/or headaches.
  • Early Disseminated Phase. Weeks to months after the rash disappears, the bacteria spreads throughout the body, impacting the joints, heart and nervous system. Symptoms include migrating pain in the joints, neck ache, tingling or numbing of the extremities, enlarged lymph glands, sore throat, abnormal pulse, fever, changes in vision, and/or fatigue.
  • Late Dissemination Phase. Late in the dissemination of the disease, patients may experience an inflammation of the heart, which can lead to heart failure. Nervous system issues may also develop, such as paralysis of facial muscles (Bell’s Palsy) and diseases of the peripheral nerves (peripheral neuropathy). It is also common for arthritis and inflammation of the joints to appear, which cause swelling, stiffness and pain.

 

Lyme Disease Treatment

Lyme disease is diagnosed through a combination of a visual examination and a blood test for Lyme bacteria antibodies. Most cases of this condition respond well to Lyme disease treatment through antibiotics, but the longer the delay, the more difficult it is to treat. Your dermatologist may also prescribe medications to help alleviate joint stiffening.

The best form of prevention is to avoid tick bites. Wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors. Tuck the sleeves into gloves and pants into socks to keep your skin covered. After a hike, check the skin and look for any tick bites, especially on children.

 

Visiting the Dermatologist for Lyme Disease

If you think you have this condition, it is imperative you visit the doctor to receive Lyme disease treatment. Without proper medical precautions, the disease can spread throughout the body, causing dangerous and irreversible damage. If you find a tick, a bull’s eye rash, or have any reason to believe you may have Lyme disease, make an appointment at our Mt. Vernon office as soon as you are able.

If you are interested in a consultation with a board-certified medical dermatologist, schedule an appointment by using our Contact page.