Did you know that Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States?
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 30,000 new cases of Lyme disease diagnosed each year. (1)
And while it can be treated with antibiotics if caught early enough, if left untreated, Lyme disease can cause serious health problems.
So, what are the early symptoms of Lyme disease?
Here are signs to watch out for:
One of the most typical early symptoms of Lyme disease is a rash called erythema migrans or EM.
It usually appears as a circular rash that gradually expands outward over a period of days and often has a “bulls-eye” appearance with a clear center and an outer ring of redness.
However, not all EM rashes will have the bulls-eye appearance, and some may just appear as a red rash.
The rash is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever, chills, headache, and body aches. (2)
Fatigue is also one of the early signs of Lyme disease.
In fact, it’s estimated that up to 80% of people with Lyme disease will experience fatigue at some point during their illness.
The fatigue can be so severe that it interferes with your ability to carry out everyday activities.
Another typical symptom of Lyme disease, particularly in the early stages, is fever.
The fever may come and go and can range from a low-grade fever to high fever (104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher).
In some cases, the fever may be accompanied by chills and sweats. (3)
4. Severe headaches
Many people with Lyme disease experience severe headaches, especially during the early stages of the infection.
5. Joint pain
If you’ve contracted Lyme disease, you may also experience joint pain and swelling, particularly in the knees.
The pain is often described as a “shooting” or “burning” sensation and usually affects the large joints such as the knees, hips, and shoulders.
The joint pain may come and go and maybe worse at night. (5)
6. Swollen Lymph Nodes
Another hallmark of Lyme disease is swollen lymph nodes.
The lymph nodes are often the first to be affected by the infection and may become tender, enlarged, and warm to the touch.
7. Muscle pain
Lyme can cause significant muscle pain and cramping.
This is often one of the first indicators that something is wrong, as Lyme patients will report significant pain even when at rest.
The Lyme bacteria can attack any muscle in the body, although the large muscles in the legs and back are most commonly affected.
Lyme-related muscle pain is often described as achy, deep, and burning.
8. Bell’s palsy
Although not always, one of the more serious symptoms of Lyme disease is paralysis of the facial muscles, known as Bell’s palsy.
Bell’s palsy occurs when the Lyme bacteria affects the seventh cranial nerve, causing weakness or paralysis on one side of the face.
Lyme disease symptoms in children
Generally speaking, the early symptoms of Lyme disease in children are similar to those in adults.
However, there are a few key differences to be aware of.
For instance, while the EM rash is still a common symptom in children, it may be more difficult to spot.
This is because the rash can appear on any area of the body and may not be limited to just one spot.
In addition, children may also experience what’s known as a “Lyme disease flu,” which is characterized by symptoms such as fever, chills, body aches, and fatigue. (10)
Lastly, because Lyme disease can mimic other illnesses such as the flu or strep throat, it’s important to be aware of the other symptoms that may be present in order to get an accurate diagnosis.
These can include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Sensitivity to light
- Short-term memory problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Vision problems
If you suspect that you or your child may have Lyme disease, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Early diagnosis and treatment are key to preventing the progression of the disease and avoiding serious complications.
Do you think you might have Lyme disease?
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor will likely order a blood test to look for Lyme disease antibodies.
They may also recommend a course of antibiotics if they suspect you have the disease.
If you live in an area where Lyme disease is common, it’s also a good idea to take steps to prevent tick bites.
This can include wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when you’re outside, using insect repellent, and staying away from wooded areas where ticks are more likely to be found.