What happens if Lyme disease goes untreated?

Medically reviewed on February 4, 2022 by Jordan Stachel and 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 treatable, and the sooner one receives treatment, the more effective that treatment is and the easier the recovery. Early Lyme disease detection is usually treated with oral antibiotics. While earlier treatment is optimal, it’s worth knowing what happens if treatment is delayed. Learn more about what happens if Lyme disease goes untreated below (check for Lyme disease from the comfort of home with the Everlywell Lyme Disease Test).


Understanding Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States. While it is transmitted through a tick’s saliva, Lyme disease is caused by bacteria. In the United States, the two main bacteria responsible for Lyme disease are Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii. These are present in most deer ticks, also known as black-legged ticks [1].

The disease manifests when an infected tick bites you, and it generally must be attached for about 36 to 48 hours for the bacteria to pass into the bloodstream. Deer ticks have been identified in essentially every state aside from Hawaii, but they are most common in states throughout the northeast and central regions of the United States [2].

Lyme Disease Symptoms

Symptoms of Lyme disease can vary from person to person, and symptoms can change as it progresses in stages. Upon contracting Lyme disease, the most common early symptom is a rash (known as erythema migrans) that looks like a bullseye pattern that is red in the center and in its outermost border. This rash will usually appear at the site of the initial tick bite. While the rash isn’t painful or itchy, it may be warm to the touch [1].

Lyme Disease vs. Ringworm

Erythema migrans can often be mistaken for other kinds of rashes. Since not all rashes are the same, they need to be examined and evaluated carefully. The rash from ringworm, for example, looks very similar to a Lyme disease rash because it also has a circular shape. The only difference is that the Lyme disease rash is clear in the middle, while the ringworm rash is red and scaly.

The rash from Lyme disease may also be accompanied by general symptoms of infection, including:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches and body aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Physical fatigue

These symptoms usually occur within the first 3 to 30 days after getting bitten by a tick [1].

How to test for Lyme disease

Wondering how to test for Lyme disease? Lyme disease testing can occur in several stages. The first is the ELISA test (short for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test), which measures the body’s antibodies level vs. the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria (one of many Lyme disease bacteria). The second test is the Western blot test, which is conducted to confirm the first test by testing the reactivity of the antibodies to certain Lyme disease bacteria proteins.

Untreated Lyme Disease

The rash from Lyme disease and other initial symptoms will clear up on their own after a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean that the infection is gone. The onset of the rash merely signifies that there may be early Lyme disease (AKA early localized Lyme disease). If left untreated, Lyme disease may result in that rash reappearing, though in other areas of the body. Additionally, more infection symptoms may arise, like fever and headaches.1 The appearance of other symptoms can signify that the condition has progressed to early disseminated Lyme disease.

Over time, symptoms can worsen and progress to more severe forms of the disease, such as chronic Lyme disease or post-treatment Lyme disease (PTLD). Symptoms can include severe swelling and pain in the joints, like arthritis. This may affect the knees more, though the pain can shift to different joints [1].

Other symptoms that may arise include:

  • Headaches and neck stiffness
  • Periods of dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart arrythmia or heart palpitations
  • Vision problems [3]

Months or even years after the initial infection, the bacteria can spread to the central nervous system and contribute to severe neurological problems. In severe cases, meningitis, characterized by inflammation in the membranes surrounding the brain, can arise. You may develop Bell’s palsy, which results in temporary paralysis in one side of the face. The hands and limbs may feel numb or weak, and there could be trouble with basic motor control [1].

As the infection progresses, in most severe cases, symptoms can potentially be fatal. Proper diagnosis and treatment help mitigate these severe, rare risks of disease progression and undesirable symptoms.

The good news is that Lyme disease is usually treatable with a round of antibiotics. The earlier the treatment, the better the outcome, but treatment may not be able to reverse damage to the nerves in some cases. Not everyone develops a bull’s eye rash, but if you live in a region with many ticks and have been experiencing symptoms, you may have the disease without knowing it. To be sure, consider getting tested with an at-home Lyme disease test with Everlywell.

Lyme disease vs. ringworm: what are the differences?

Is Lyme disease treatable?

How to test for Lyme disease


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. Recognizing Untreated Lyme Disease and Getting Treatment. Verywell Health. URL. Accessed February 4, 2022.

Everlywell makes lab testing easy and convenient with at-home collection and digital results in days. Learn More