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.
A diagnosis of arthritis is the first step toward successful treatment. To diagnose arthritis, your doctor will consider your symptoms, perform a physical exam to check for swollen joints or loss of motion, and use blood tests and X-rays to confirm the diagnosis. X-rays and blood tests also help distinguish the type of arthritis you have. For example, most people with rheumatoid arthritis have antibodies called rheumatoid factors (RF) in their blood, although RF may also be present in other disorders...
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 typical treatment 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. Shorter courses of treatment may also be effective. 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 it doesn't, help should be sought at a specialized Lyme disease clinic.
Some people may be given antibiotics to try to prevent Lyme disease. 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.