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Lyme Disease - Topic Overview

Lyme disease is an infection that is spread by ticks. You can get Lyme disease if you are bitten by an infected tick. But most people who have had a tick bite don't get Lyme disease. It's still important to see your doctor if you have a tick attached to you that you can't remove.

Lyme disease is common in the United States. It can also be found in Canada, Europe, and Asia.

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria. Infected ticks spread the bacteria by biting people or animals.

Two types of ticks carry the Lyme disease bacteria in the U.S. They are:

  • Deer ticks camera.gif. They spread the disease in the Northeast and Midwest.
  • Western black-legged ticks camera.gif. They spread the disease along the Pacific coast, mostly in northern California and Oregon.

Remove ticks camera.gif as soon as you notice them. Infected ticks usually don't spread Lyme disease until they have been attached for at least 36 hours.

One sign of Lyme disease is a round, red rash camera.gif that spreads at the site of a tick bite. This rash can get very large.

Flu-like symptoms are also common. People in the early stages of Lyme disease may feel very tired and have headaches, sore muscles and joints, and a fever.

These symptoms can start at any time, from 3 days to up to a month after you have been bitten. Some people don't have any symptoms when they are in the early stages of Lyme disease. And they may not even remember getting a tick bite.

If Lyme disease goes untreated, you can have more serious symptoms over time. These include:

  • Swelling and joint pain (like arthritis).
  • Tingling and numbness in your hands, feet, and back.
  • A lack of energy that does not get better.
  • Trouble focusing your thoughts.
  • Poor memory.
  • Weakness or paralysis in your face muscles.

Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. Your doctor will also ask about your activities to try to find out if you have been around infected ticks. You may have a blood test to see if you have certain antibodies in your blood that could mean you have the disease.

The main treatment for Lyme disease is antibiotics. These medicines usually cure Lyme disease within 3 weeks of starting treatment.

It's important to get treatment for Lyme disease as soon as you can. If it goes untreated, Lyme disease can lead to problems with your skin, joints, nervous system, and heart. These can occur weeks, months, or even years after your tick bite. The problems often get better with antibiotics, but in rare cases they can last the rest of your life.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 21, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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