Lyme disease is a pretty horrifying infection that starts with everyone’s favorite little arachnid: the tick. Lyme disease symptoms can range from little rashes to massive neurological disorders, and can even turn deadly if left untreated. But it all begins with a small bite from an infected tick, and terrifyingly enough, it can happen to you pretty much anywhere. As gruesome as this may sound, you may still be wondering what it’s like to have Lyme disease as its symptoms progress, and lucky for you, we have the answers.
It’s All Starts with One Little Bite
Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks, a particularly nasty little arachnid with an appetite for human blood. But how does one simply bite jumpstart all this sickness? Well, the ticks pass along a little bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which makes its way into your blood stream when a tick bites you. Oftentimes, the bacteria is spread by younger, smaller ticks, which have a painless and mostly unnoticeable bite, so you won’t even notice it’s gotten you. Once it’s in, the bacteria, which is creepily corkscrew-shaped, makes its way to your nervous system, vital organs, and all throughout your body. From there, you’ll start to notice that something is a little wrong, though you won’t quite know why.
What’s more is that Lyme disease has been found on every continent except for Antarctica. Basically, there’s no escaping it.
It Imitates a Bunch of Other Diseases
Although it’s in your body and there will be obvious symptoms, chances are you won’t recognize what’s affecting you as Lyme disease. Lyme disease has a huge number of symptoms that all seem to impact different parts of the body, unrelated to each other. Some of these symptoms smack of specific diseases, so you’re probably going to think you’re sick with something else. Do you have the flu? Is it a joint pain issue? Maybe you’re just tired, who knows! The fact of the matter is that you’re going to experience a bunch of weird stuff, none of which screams Lyme disease.
You’re Going to Get Super Tired
One thing you might notice upon first getting Lyme disease is that you feel a little worn out. In fact, you might feel downright exhausted. Between your body trying to fight off the infection and the infection itself wreaking havoc, you’re likely to feel pretty fatigued. Doctors may even misdiagnose you with chronic fatigue. Of course, being tired is hardly a huge warning sign, especially if you live an active lifestyle, so you’ll probably brush it off as no big deal. Unfortunately, it only gets worse from here.
You Might Feel Like You Just Worked Out Too Hard
After the fatigue, things are going to progress and get a bit more severe. Your joints may hurt, you may have heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and your muscles may ache. Even if you haven’t been to the gym, you might feel like you’ve been through one heck of a workout, and the feeling will persist all day. Physical activity is also going to make it worse. This might be the point where you start feeling like something is wrong with you.
You Might Think You Have the Flu
Think of what you know about the flu. It’s all about nausea, fever, chills, headache, and achy limbs, right? Well, that’s pretty much what the early symptoms of Lyme disease are, too. The majority of people, when these symptoms hit, assume that they simply have the flu and take a day off from work to rest up. However, rest doesn’t fix Lyme disease, and the symptoms are going to get worse and worse over time, even if you and your doctors don’t recognize it. Luckily, there will finally be a symptom that tells you, in big bold letters, that you probably have Lyme disease.
There May Be a Massive, Bullseye-Shaped Rash
If you’re looking for a sign that you have Lyme disease, here it is, like a big red bullseye. No, seriously. It looks like a bullseye. Between three and 30 days after being bitten, the area around the initial tick bite is going to start showing a large rash, sometimes warm to the touch but not painful, with the bite in the center and a red ring around the outside. You may also notice rashes in other areas, particularly around the joints, but the big one is going to be right around where you’ve initially been bitten. At this point, when you go to a doctor, they’ll probably be able to tell you what’s going on just from looking at that.
You Might Lose Control of Your Face
An unusual but terrifying symptom of Lyme disease is Bell’s Palsy. What’s that, you may be wondering? It’s when part of your face becomes paralyzed, seemingly out of the blue, or starts spasming uncontrollably. You might notice that you can’t smile with one side, or that part of your face feels numb, or that other parts of your body are numb and difficult to control. This happens because the bacterial infection can, in fact, get to your nervous system and cause neurological disorders. You might even start to have seizures, in rare cases. This could take weeks or months to appear.
Your Body Will Start Feeling Stiff All Over
Along with numbness, you might notice you’re feeling a little stiff. And that doesn’t just mean your hands or knees are feeling stiff. Particularly, your neck will feel stiff, which sometimes leading to pretty bad headaches. To make matters worse, you may start experiencing arthritis, with severe joint pain that makes it difficult to move around. Not moving is bound to make stiffness worse, too, so it’s a symptom that actually makes itself worse.
The Pain May Keep You from Sleeping
Speaking of that joint pain, things are going to get pretty nasty here. Not only are you going to notice stiff, painful, and even rashy joints, but you’re also going to have shooting pain in your limbs. You’ll feel it in your feet, your hands, your tendons, and even in your very bones. Basically, a month into the infection, expect to be in a world of hurt.
This pain can be so severe that you may not be able to go to sleep at night. Although you might think the shooting pains are related to something else, they’ll probably be drastic enough that you seek medical help.
You May Start to Lose Your Memory
Remember how neurological problems were mentioned earlier in the list? Well, while the bacteria are attacking your spinal column, they might just work their way up into your brain. That’ll bring on confusion, dizziness, and even memory loss. That’s right, one little tick bite might make you forgetful and hazy about things that have just happened. Your long-term memory, like memories of childhood, should be just fine, but your short-term memory is going to experience some distortion. This is a slightly rarer symptom, but after a month or two has passed, it is a possibility.
Your Might Experience Severe Gastrointestinal Distress
Although nausea goes along with flu-like symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms on Lyme disease do get worse as the infection spreads. You may find you can no longer keep food down, or that you’re… firing from both ends, so to speak. So, while you’re in pain, exhausted, feverish, and confused, you might end up being stuck in the bathroom more often than you’d like, too. You’ll also experience bloating, stomach pain, and cramping as well as dehydration from the vomiting. So, even though it might make you feel queasy, remember to keep drinking water to stay hydrated. Oh, and definitely go see a doctor.
You’re Going to Get Super Moody
As you get confused and you lose total control over your short-term memory, it only makes sense that you might be a little grumpy. More specifically, you may feel depressed, anxious, or may experience drastic mood swings. It’s hard to say whether that’s related to the fever, the bacteria attacking your brain, or just being grumpy that you’re sick, but we do know that Lyme disease is bound to make you act completely out of character.
Because of this, some doctors will diagnose you with psychiatric illnesses, rather than physical ones, which may delay you from getting treatment. So, remember to look for that bullseye rash.
You May Feel Like You’re on Pins and Needles
This might seem like a nice change from the shooting pain, but this is a pretty bad sign. This symptom can actually take months to present, and will feel like your extremities are constantly tingling, even when you haven’t been sitting funny. This might also make sleeping difficult, as well as interfere with mobility. If it happens in your hands and fingers, it may also impact your ability to work, or just really really frustrate you.
Mostly, this is a late symptom and is a sign that the Lyme disease is taking a serious toll on your body.
You’ll Start Swelling Inside and Out
As all this is happening, there’s definitely going to be some swelling, though you likely won’t notice all of it. Your lymph nodes will swell to indicate that your body is trying to fight something off. Your joints and muscles might swell to accompany all that lovely pain you’re feeling. The membranes surrounding your brain is going to get inflamed, as well the area around the spine, your other bones in general, and even your eyes. In short, you’re going to puff up inside and out. Even worse? It might all start to itch. This is a sign that your whole body has become infected with the disease, and that you need treatment immediately.
You Can Actually Die
Believe it or not, that little tick bite can actually cause death. If left untreated, Lyme disease infections can move to your brain, your heart, and other vital organs, causing them to fail or work too poorly to fight off other, more deadly infections. The corkscrew-shaped bacteria can also burrow into healthy cells where they can hide from your immune system, so it’s unlikely you can beat it on your own. According to the CDC, there were 114 deaths attributed to Lyme disease in the US between 1999 and 2003. So if you think you have it, you should seek treatment sooner rather than later.
It’s Curable, but Incredibly Difficult to Catch
So, you’ve got Lyme disease, and you’re going to go get treated. What’s your outlook? Well, here’s where we give you some good news. Lyme disease is incredibly treatable. With antibiotics, you can generally get healthy again in about a month, assuming you caught it fairly early. The vast majority of people are cured without any permanent side effects.
Here’s the bad news: because it’s hard to diagnose, and because it’s so good at hiding in various parts of your body, it’s hard to get rid of all of it. In some cases, symptoms can remain for six months or longer. This is sometimes known as “chronic Lyme disease” and is kind of miserable. So, get treated early and avoid the turmoil of having Lyme disease long-term.