Medically reviewed on July 13, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Maybe it’s the flu. Maybe you’re had an exhausting week. However, if you’ve been hiking or camping recently, there’s a chance the symptoms you feel might point to a different diagnosis—Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness.
From fatigue to chills, Lyme disease can manifest a little differently in each person. Luckily, medical professionals have created protocols to detect and treat this tickborne disease.
If you suspect you “caught the bug”, keep reading to learn how is Lyme disease diagnosed.
Passed from tick to human, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection. In 2019, the CDC reported 34,945 cases of Lyme disease—more than two-thirds of total tick-borne illness cases. 
The Lyme disease bacterium is Borrelia burgdorferi . Once passed to a human, this bacteria will often create symptoms like rashes, headaches, and fevers. If unchecked, the infection can even spread to the heart, nervous system, and muscular system, potentially creating chronic Lyme disease issues. The sooner the infectious disease is treated, the better.
No matter your symptoms, all cases of Lyme disease begin with a tick bite—no exceptions.
Since the first known case in 1975, researchers have concluded that Lyme disease passes from parasitic ticks to humans.  There is no evidence that Lyme disease is transferable via air, water, or even other insects.  If you spend a lot of time outdoors in tick-infested areas, it’s important to know the origins and risks of catching Lyme disease.
Tiny and sneaky parasites, ticks can easily transfer bacteria to humans. In the case of Lyme disease, it only takes one strong bite to transfer the Borrelia bacterium.
Almost all cases of Lyme disease are caused by two types of ticks—the infected blacklegged tick (or deer tick) or the western blacklegged tick. These ticks like to latch onto soft, out-of-reach, or high blood flow body parts, like the:
Typically, humans are infected via the bites of tiny immature ticks called nymphs. At less than 2 mm (about the size of a poppy seed), nymphs easily go undetected on the skin. This gives time for Borrelia bacterium to spread, usually needing at least 36 hours to fully transfer.  If you catch a tick bite early, you can possibly avoid any bacterial transfer.
If suspecting Lyme disease, healthcare providers will likely ask you one question—have you been spending time outdoors?
Across the US, ticks are usually found in wooded and grassy environments. Tick populations often rise during the warmer months, making these regions more risky for spreading Lyme disease:
If you live in these regions and love to hike, camp, or explore the outdoors, it’s important to keep your body covered and protected. Otherwise, you might be putting yourself at risk.
Lyme disease is not exactly one size fits all. While certain symptoms are common, some patients might suffer for months while others have minimal side effects—it all depends on the severity of the infection.
Early Lyme disease symptoms start anywhere from 3 to 30 days after an infected tick bite. If left untreated, symptoms can worsen overtime as the infection spreads across your body. Let’s explore a timeline of typical Lyme disease symptoms and physical signs.
Over the first month, Lyme disease symptoms range from mild to moderate. You might feel like you have the flu, but a few telltale signs differentiate this infection—in particular, a rash.
Erythema migrans, or EM, is the red rash that often accompanies an infected tick bite. About 70-80% of Lyme disease patients get this rash, which grows with time.  EM looks like a red solid or bulls-eye rash around a bite mark, usually warm to the touch but not itchy.
Besides an EM rash, Lyme disease patients can also expect these common symptoms during the first untreated month:
If untreated, Borrelia burgdorferi can start to infect your entire body, from the nervous system to your heart. This can create some serious symptoms—or even chronic Lyme disease.
On top of earlier symptoms, long-term Lyme disease patients might notice these physical signs emerge overtime:
With its delayed symptoms and tiny carriers, Lyme disease can be hard to detect. So, how do medical professionals diagnose this condition?
Most health care providers take a “collective” approach to diagnosing Lyme disease. Since symptoms can appear differently across patients, they will often give multiple tests to determine a Lyme disease infection. When consulting a healthcare provider, you might be questioned on or tested for:
Since Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, most healthcare provider require a positive antibodies test to give an official diagnosis. Otherwise, the diagnosis can be inconclusive or even false.
The CDC recommends healthcare providers follow a two-step approach for Lyme disease testing: if the first test (an antibody screen) is positive, then another type of test (immunoblot assay) is performed for confirmation of results. The two test types in this process will often be: 
There’s one golden rule with Lyme disease treatment—the earlier, the better.
Like many bacterial infections, Lyme disease can spread fast. That’s why early diagnosis is critical. Without intervention, you might be left treating damaging or chronic symptoms down the line. Depending on your infection severity, healthcare providers will prescribe a range of Lyme disease treatments.
The faster you can block the spread of Borrelia burgdorferi in your system, the more likely you’ll recover fully. To kill off the bacteria, healthcare providers will usually prescribe antibiotics to treat Lyme disease, including: 
If not caught soon enough, Lyme disease can potentially damage the body—even developing into a chronic condition.
In the medical community, “chronic Lyme disease” or post-treatment Lyme disease carries some speculation. Certain patients have adopted the term to describe long-term effects Lyme disease, despite zero diagnoses or real evidence of Lyme disease. However, the damage from a severe and untreated infection can definitely create chronic health issues like: 
If your persistent symptoms for 6 months after treatment, consult your healthcare providers. It’s possible that you might have damage from your first infection or a separate illness. While a medical professional can soothe your symptoms, there is no “cure” for chronic health issues from Lyme disease.
If you suspect Lyme disease symptoms but can’t find a rash, our at-home Lyme Disease Test can give some direction.
The Everlywell Lyme Disease Test checks for three different Borellia antibodies—Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia garinii, or Borrelia afzeli. This follows the CDC’s two-step approach, giving you a full answer in one test. Order your test today, so you can take a more informed step to getting the medical treatment you deserve.