How to Test for Lyme Disease

How to test for Lyme disease

Medically reviewed on February 4, 2022 by Jasmine Thompson. 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 an infectious bacterial disease and is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States, Asia, and Europe. In the United States, the bacteria that cause Lyme disease are found in deer ticks or black-legged ticks. This means that you are more likely to get a Lyme disease infection if you live in areas with high deer and black-legged tick populations [1].

Lyme disease can be devastating in its later stages, so obtaining a prompt diagnosis helps to ensure proper, early treatment. Learn more about Lyme disease and how to test for it below (for at-home testing, consider the Everlywell Lyme Disease Test).

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What Is Lyme Disease?

Getting bit by a deer tick doesn’t always mean that you’ll develop Lyme disease because not all deer ticks are infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. If you are bit by a tick infected with the Lyme disease bacteria, it typically takes 36 to 48 hours to transmit the disease. If you remove the tick early enough, the bacteria may never enter the bloodstream [2].

Early Lyme disease typically starts with erythema migrans, which is a small bump that looks like a common mosquito bite. This tick bite can resolve within a few days. If infection occurs, a rash will typically develop within a month of being bitten. The rash will be red in the center and on the outsides, forming a characteristic bull’s eye pattern. This rash can be up to 12 inches in diameter, though it’s generally not painful or itchy [1].

Lyme Disease vs Ringworm

It can be easy to confuse the Lyme disease rash with rashes caused by other conditions, like ringworm. If you take a closer look, a ringworm rash has a circular appearance and raised edges.

Along with a rash, you may experience other infection symptoms like a fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, and/or physical fatigue [1].

What happens if Lyme disease goes untreated?

If left untreated, Lyme disease can continue to manifest over a few weeks or months. The rash may reappear, along with the infection symptoms. You may also experience joint pain similar to arthritis. Over time, in rare cases, neurological problems could develop, including:

  • Meningitis (inflammation in membranes surrounding the brain)
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Impaired muscle movement
  • Weak or numb limbs [1]

When it comes to this tick-borne disease, early detection is important to help prevent the development of chronic Lyme disease. The effects of chronic Lyme disease infection have the potential to negatively affect the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system, and reproductive system.

How Lyme Disease testing works

Lyme disease testing typically involves testing for three strains of bacteria: Borrelia garinii, Borrelia afzelii, and Borrelia burgdorferi. Having antibodies for these bacteria suggests that infection has occurred.

If results are positive for Lyme disease, your healthcare provider will likely advise next steps, including receiving a Western Blot Test, which detects antibodies created in response to specific proteins of B. burgdorferi [1]. Both testing steps can be performed using the same blood sample [3].

If both tests show positive results, you likely have Lyme disease, and your healthcare provider can help you determine appropriate treatment options. For those still experiencing active Lyme disease despite trying medications for treatment, a PCR test is used to determine the genetic material of the Lyme disease bacteria. This can help identify a current, active infection.

Is Lyme disease treatable?

Lyme disease can typically be treated with antibiotics, but some people may develop ongoing, long-term symptoms. Getting tested and treated as early as possible can improve outcomes. If you think you may have been exposed to a deer tick, a good first step is to try out the Everlywell at-home Lyme Disease Test in the comfort of your home. If your lab test results are positive, a care coordinator will contact you to discuss next steps and how a physician may diagnose and treat Lyme disease (if appropriate).

What happens if Lyme disease goes untreated?

Lyme disease vs. ringworm: what are the differences?

Is Lyme disease treatable?


References

1. Lyme disease - symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 4, 2022.

2. Transmission. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 4, 2022.

3. Diagnosis and Testing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 4, 2022.

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