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Understanding Lyme Disease -- Diagnosis and Treatment

How Do I Know If I Have Lyme Disease?

The bull's-eye rash of Lyme disease is distinctive. If you have been exposed to a tick and have the rash, this is enough to make the diagnosis. But if you have no such rash, Lyme disease is hard to diagnose. It mimics other diseases, such as the flu and arthritis, and there is often a long time lapse between symptoms.

Your health care provider will check for flu-like symptoms and take a sample of blood to check for a high antibody response to Lyme disease. However, blood testing is not completely reliable. It is also not accurate in the early weeks of infection, when treatment should really begin.

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People who have been cured often have positive blood tests for Lyme disease for many years, raising the risk of misdiagnosis.

What Is the Treatment for Lyme Disease?

The treatment of choice for early-stage Lyme disease is a 21-day course of oral antibiotics, usually doxycycline or amoxicillin, which usually kills the bacteria and prevents later symptoms. People treated early in the infection usually recover rapidly and completely.

Even if not diagnosed in the early stages, Lyme disease can still be successfully treated with antibiotics. In some cases, the disease doesn't seem to fully respond to antibiotics; if not, help should be sought at a specialized Lyme disease clinic.

In some cases, antibiotics have been prescribed for people who have only vague symptoms or fear they may have had a tick bite. Some people who have a lot of anxiety and worry after a tick bite may be given antibiotics to try to prevent Lyme disease. However, antibiotics to prevent Lyme disease should only be given when the tick has been attached for at least 36 hours and the person has been in a region where there is a high risk of contracting Lyme disease.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on March 29, 2013

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