How to know if you have Lyme disease

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on April 10, 2021. 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.


Lyme disease is surprisingly common, especially in regions of the U.S. known for woody, grassy, brushy land. However, one of the hardest parts of identifying Lyme disease is that its symptoms can often vary and can be easily mistaken for other common conditions.

So, how do you know if you have Lyme disease? Lyme disease testing kits are one way to know for sure, but keep reading to discover all the signs and symptoms of this disease.

Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease

First, it is necessary to understand what causes Lyme disease: a bacteria that is spread by ticks. When an infected tick bites you, it takes up to 36 to 48 hours for that bacteria to enter your body. The incubation period for that Lyme bacterium is about three to 30 days, during which you may experience a wide range of symptoms. These Lyme disease symptoms can also occur in stages that may overlap.

Related: How to avoid getting Lyme disease?

The most common and most characteristic symptom of this tick-borne disease is a rash, known as erythema migrans. This rash radiates from the site of the tick bite and can reach up to 12 inches in diameter. This early Lyme disease symptom appears red with a center that clears up, creating a bull’s-eye pattern that isn’t common with most other illnesses. The rash itself typically isn’t itchy or painful.

Aside from this rash, you may experience general flu-like symptoms, including:

Fever Chills Severe headache and muscle aches Swollen lymph nodes Stiff neck Fatigue

As the Lyme infection progresses, you may experience more erythema migrans in different parts of the body. The untreated Lyme disease infection can also spread to other organs. The disease can cause heart issues, particularly heart palpitations and an irregular heartbeat. It can also spread to the nerves and contribute to severe neurological problems, including:

Meningitis (inflammation in the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord) Temporary face palsy, resulting in paralysis and weak muscles in the face Impaired muscle movement General numbness and weakness

Some people may also experience eye or liver inflammation several weeks after the initial infection, but this is rare.

As Lyme disease affects so many different organs and organ systems, it can be easy to mistake for other conditions, including:

Chronic fatigue syndrome

CFS is a complicated disorder that is characterized by extreme physical fatigue lasting for six or more months. This fatigue doesn’t go away with sleep or rest and can lead to cognition problems, dizziness, and even flu-like symptoms. There is currently no known cause of CFS, though theories suggest everything from stress to viral infections.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain throughout the body. This can also be accompanied by mood issues, memory problems, sleep disorders, and fatigue. The exact cause is not well known, but symptoms can begin following physical trauma, surgery, psychological stress, or other significant events.

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder wherein the immune system begins to attack the protective cover (the myelin sheath) surrounding nerve fibers. This causes communication issues between the brain and the rest of the body, eventually resulting in permanent damage to the central nervous system. Symptoms include fatigue, numbness or weakness in the limbs, a loss of coordination, and vision issues.

Depression

Depression is a mood disorder characterized by extreme feelings of sadness and a loss of interest or motivation. It can come with some serious physical symptoms, including general fatigue, cognitive problems, and unexplained physical aches and pains.

The best way to know if you have Lyme disease is to get a Lyme disease test. Everlywell offers an at-home Lyme disease testing kit that is a great place to get started. If your results come back positive, we can connect you with a care coordinator, who can provide guidance for getting a clinical diagnosis and treatment.

For answers to more questions about Lyme disease, such as “Is Lyme disease contagious?” or “How is Lyme disease transmitted?” check out our blog.

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