Chronic Lyme Disease -- Complications

With treatment and time, the symptoms of Lyme disease, which is caused by a tick bite, usually get better. If you are diagnosed with Lyme disease, you’re usually given antibiotics for 2-4 weeks. When symptoms linger well beyond the typical treatment time, you may have what's called "post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome" (PTLDS). It’s also called "chronic Lyme disease." About 1 in 10 people who get Lyme disease have lingering symptoms.

A wide range of effects from PTLDS can go on for months. Some call Lyme disease "the great imitator" because its symptoms tend to mimic many other problems.

Fatigue

The hallmark problem of PTLDS is feeling tired. This often goes along with widespread muscle aches and severe headaches. The fatigue can linger for years. The symptoms are similar to those of chronic fatigue syndrome or the pain condition called fibromyalgia.

Arthritis and Joint Pain

At least half of people with Lyme disease get a form of arthritis. Often the pain and joint stiffness can be felt all over, but sometimes it’s just in certain joints, like the knees. It usually goes away, but in some people, the arthritis may continue.

Head Problems

Many people with PTLDS have bad headaches and complain of trouble with short-term memory and other thinking skills.

Numbness

Tingling, shooting pain, or loss of feeling may strike in the arms, face, hands, or legs.

Bell's Palsy

When chronic Lyme disease affects the nerves in the face, you may get what's called Bell's palsy. The face muscles and eyelid droop on one side. Your face may feel numb. Hearing or vision can also be affected.

Heart Problems

Rarely, PTLDS can cause organ damage. The heart may beat irregularly or too slowly. 

Depression and Stress

Lyme disease itself doesn't make people depressed. But coping with symptoms that persist long after treatment ends can be hard. That can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. Talking to a counselor may give needed extra support through this stressful time.

Treating PTLDS

When Lyme disease symptoms don’t go away after treatment ends, sometimes another round of antibiotics is given. Studies show little difference between those who got extra drugs compared to those who didn't.

Talk to your doctor about all of your symptoms. Together, you can come up with a plan to treat them.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on June 13, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Annals of Internal Medicine: "Lyme Disease Controversy, Use and Misuse of Language," March 5, 2002.

CDC: "Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome" and "Research Into Prolonged Treatment for Lyme Disease."

International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society: "Chronic Lyme Tips."

Patel, R. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2000.

University of Maryland Medical Center: "Lyme Disease and Related Tick-Borne Illnesses."

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