Some ticks carry a type of bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. If you’re bitten by an infected tick, this microbe enters your bloodstream and can make you sick with an illness called Lyme disease.
It’s the most common illness carried by ticks in the United States. It can damage any organ of your body. That includes your nervous system and brain, heart and joints.
Lyme disease can be tough to diagnose. Early symptoms such as headaches and body aches are often mistaken for other health problems.
Still, it can be cured. How you’re treated will depend on how much bacteria has spread through your body by the time you’re diagnosed.
Treatment for Early-Stage Lyme disease
If your Lyme disease is found soon after you’ve been infected, your doctor will start you on antibiotics:
Which drug you’re prescribed will depend on your age. Your doctor will also take into account if you’re pregnant or nursing. You’ll need to take this medicine for 10 to 21 days.
The earlier Lyme disease is found, the better. Most people who start treatment in this stage improve quickly. If not, your doctor may need to prescribe another course of antibiotics.
Treatment for Late-Stage Lyme Disease
If there are signs that the Borrelia burgdoferi bacteria has spread to your central nervous system, you can still be treated with antibiotics. The difference is that the medicine will be given to you directly into a vein (IV). This allows it to go right into your bloodstream and start working.
Most people receive medicine by IV for 2 to 3 weeks. During this time, your doctor will also try to ease some of your symptoms and any pain you’re in. This could involve physical therapy, antidepressants, changes to your diet or types of stretching like yoga.
It’s likely this treatment will get rid of the bacteria that’s making you sick. Still, it could take some time for your symptoms to go away.
IV antibiotics also come with side effects. These can include diarrhea and a low white blood cell count, which makes it hard for your body to fight off other infections.
Treatment for Chronic Lyme Disease
Sometimes, people go through treatment for Lyme disease but their symptoms (feeling run-down and achy) don’t go away. If this lasts over 6 months, it’s known as chronic Lyme disease or “post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome” (PTLDS).
Doctors still aren’t sure why some people get PTLDS. Some believe that getting Lyme disease may cause damage to your tissues or immune system. Others believe it’s because the bacteria that causes Lyme hasn’t completely gone away.
There is little evidence that taking more antibiotics at this stage will help. They may actually be harmful. Instead, your doctor will focus on treating the symptoms you’re still having. This will be different for everyone. Some people could benefit from a medicine that relieves fatigue, while others may need a drug that can help with headaches or very sensitive skin.
Your doctor could also have you try a treatment that helps people with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia.
More research is needed to figure out how best to treat PTLDS. It’s something that can be frustrating. Just remember: Many people who have this condition do start feeling like their old selves after a few months.
What Else You Should Know
No matter what stage of Lyme disease you have, make sure to go to all your doctor appointments. This is important, even if you start feeling better. They’ll also want to know if you start feeling worse or are having new symptoms. If so, a change in your treatment may be necessary.