Man holding knee and experiencing long-term effects of Lyme disease

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Lyme Disease?

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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Feeling under the weather after that long hike? It may just be normal aches and pains. However, it might be a sign of a more serious condition that deserves attention—Lyme disease.

A tick-borne illness, Lyme disease can overtake the body when left untreated. If you love exploring the outdoors, it’s best to know the risks and signs of this infection. Let’s dive into the short- and long-term effects of Lyme disease, as well as possible treatment options.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi. In humans, this infection can only be spread via parasitic tick bites—not air, water, or other animals. [3]

With 34,945 diagnosed cases in 2019, Lyme disease is not exactly rare. [2] That’s why it’s important to know which conditions allow the infected tick to pass this disease to humans, such as:

  • LocationWhere is Lyme disease common? In the US, the black-legged tick (or deer tick) and the western black-legged tick can transfer Lyme disease. These species are found in grassy and wooded environments across the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, upper Midwest, and upper Pacific coast.
  • Season – Like most insects, ticks thrive during the warmer months. Lyme disease transmission and diagnoses go up during spring, summer, and early fall.
  • Timing – To spread the bacteria, infected ticks must latch onto the body for at least 36 hours.[3] That’s why most humans are infected by nymphs, or small immature ticks, which can go incognito on the body. If you remove a tick before 36 hours, you may reduce the risk of infection.

Once transmitted, Lyme disease can manifest in a few different symptoms. Let’s explore the signs to look for, so you can catch the condition early.

Lyme disease signs and symptoms

So, how is Lyme disease diagnosed and what are the symptoms to look out for? When detecting Lyme disease, it’s important to remember one rule — move fast.

It is also important to understand Lyme disease vs. Rocky Mountain spotted fever since the two may share common symptoms. As a bacterial condition, Lyme disease can spread throughout the body. Given time, this infection can reach the nervous system, heart, and skeletal-muscular system. The longer Lyme disease goes untreated, the worse its symptoms and bodily damage. So, what are the stages of Lyme disease?

Early-stage Lyme disease symptoms

Usually, it takes 3 to 30 days for symptoms to start after an infected tick bite. [3] As the bacteria begins to spread, this usually creates mild to moderate physical conditions. You may experience flu-like symptoms such as:

  • Fevers & chills
  • Headaches
  • Neck stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle & joint aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes

One early symptom that is particularly connected to Lyme disease is a skin rash called “erythema migrans,” which appears in about 70-80% of Lyme disease cases. [1] While not itchy or painful, the rash is usually red with a solid or bulls-eye shape. Remember that a lack of a rash does not mean you don’t have Lyme disease.

Late-stage Lyme disease symptoms

If untreated, the spread of Borrelia burgdorferi can start to create some serious symptoms—and even bodily damage.

Once Lyme disease reaches the heart, nervous system, or deep into the joints, you will feel an intense downward shift in health. An untreated Lyme disease patient might notice these chronic symptoms emerge after a month or longer:

  • Severe headaches and/or neck stiffness
  • More EM rashes across the body
  • Facial palsy or drooping
  • Severe joint pain and swelling (Lyme arthritis)
  • An irregular heartbeat or palpitations (Lyme carditis)
  • Dizziness and chronic fatigue
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Nerve pain (shooting pains, numbness, or tingling)

Lyme disease treatment

Recognize these symptoms after a campout? Then immediately contact your medical provider. The faster you can get Lyme disease treatment, the quicker and better you can recover.

Once you test positive for Lyme disease antibodies, then your healthcare provider will quickly put you on an antibiotic regimen. As of now, that is the only standard medical treatment for Lyme disease. Whether orally or intravenously, most healthcare providers will prescribe one of these antibiotics for two to three weeks: [5]

  • Doxycycline
  • Amoxicillin
  • Cefuroxime

You might experience side effects like diarrhea or stomach aches on these antibiotic regimens, especially if receiving them intravenously. However, treatment is well worth avoiding any long-term damage from Lyme disease.

What long-term effects can Lyme disease create?

You might have heard the phrase “chronic Lyme disease." While this term has no standard medical definition, that doesn’t mean long-term effects from Lyme disease aren’t real—in fact, they’re incredibly possible.

When left untreated, Lyme disease can easily damage your health. However, even when treated by medical professionals, about 5-20% of Lyme disease patients experience debilitating long-term effects—also known as Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome. These long-term effects include: [4]

  • Lyme carditis (irregular heartbeat or “heart block”)
  • Lyme arthritis (severe joint pain and swelling)
  • Brain fog
  • Severe fatigue
  • Neurological problems (meningitis, Bell’s palsy, impaired movement, etc.)
  • Anxiety and depression

As of now, the medical jury is out on the cause of persistent Lyme disease effects. Some professionals believe the bacterial infection “triggers” an autoimmune reaction, creating a myriad of symptoms. While there is no cure for chronic Lyme or late Lyme disease symptoms, medical providers can help reduce pain and suffering.

Test for Lyme Disease with Everlywell

With this type of tick-borne illness, early Lyme disease treatment is crucial for recovery. That’s why accurate and quick testing is an important tool—one that we can help provide.

Get answers to your symptoms with the Everlywell at-home Lyme Disease Test, which checks for exposure to 3 different species of Borrelia bacteria. The test follows the two-step algorithm recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which includes an antibody screen and, if results on the initial screen are positive, a confirmation test via an immunoblot assay.

How is Lyme Disease Diagnosed?

Where Is Lyme Disease Common?

Lyme Disease vs. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Stages of Lyme Disease Explained


References

  1. Signs & Symptoms. CDC. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  2. Tickborne Disease Surveillance Data Summary. CDC. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  3. Transmission. CDC. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  4. Chronic Symptoms. Columbia University Irving Medical Center. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  5. Lyme Disease. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
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