If you think you may have been bitten by a tick, it’s imperative that you track any symptoms or physical changes in your body to find out if you might have contracted Lyme disease. Read on for the six most important symptoms to report to your physician.
1. A bullseye rash
One common symptom of Lyme disease is the development of a bullseye rash (also called erythema migrans) that appears at the site of the tick bite. It can show up anywhere on the body where you might have been bitten and can be seen anywhere from three to 30 days after the initial tick bite. The rash looks like a solid red oval or a bullseye with a central red spot, a clear circle surrounding that, and another wide, red circle on the outside. The rash is typically unraised and doesn’t usually itch. This particular rash occurs within about 60–90% of cases, so there’s still a chance you’ve contracted Lyme disease even if you don’t spot a bullseye rash on your body.
Smaller rashes can also appear around three to five weeks after the tick bite took place. These can look like red blotches, raised rashes, or even blisters, and can happen because the bacteria is being spread through your tissue. If you don’t seek treatment for any of the rashes, it’s possible they will expand.
If you spot a rash that you think is connected to a tick bite, it’s always a good idea to get it checked out by your physician. If you can’t get in to see a doctor immediately, try asking if it’s okay to send a picture into the office. Your doctor might be able to tell whether it’s crucial for you to come in for an appointment or not based on the picture. Whether your rash is connected to Lyme disease or another condition, it’s better to play it safe and let your doctor view the rash for themselves.
2. Joint pain
Many people who have contracted Lyme disease point to joint pain as one of their major symptoms. They often report achy, stiff, or swollen joints that can be inflamed, painful, and/or warm to the touch. Some patients even note an onset of a limited range of motion in select joints. One way you can tell if your joint pain is connected to Lyme disease is if the pain moves around to different parts of your body. For example, people with Lyme can have joint pain that travels from their knees to their neck or elsewhere in their body. Typically, the larger joints in the body are the biggest problems for Lyme disease patients. More than one joint is also often affected by the infection.
Most Lyme disease patients note that their first episode of joint pain occurred within six months of the tick bite. Because the joint pain isn’t necessarily felt right away, the symptom can lead to misdiagnoses. Likewise, joint pain can fit with a number of other diagnoses (including arthritis), so make sure to tell your doctor if you think your joint pain might be connected to Lyme disease.
3. Flu-like symptoms
If you’ve contracted Lyme disease, you can start to have flu-like symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, low-grade fevers, muscle pain, and general feelings of malaise. About half of Lyme disease patients report these symptoms within the first week of infection. Because these symptoms feel so much like the flu, a lot of people don’t end up reporting anything to their doctor. However, these flu-like symptoms are different from the common flu because they can come and go from one week to the next, instead of being persistent like you see with the flu. If you notice these symptoms (especially along with any of the other ones listed), you should check with your doctor to see if you have the flu or if you have contracted Lyme disease.
Feelings of extreme fatigue (including tiredness and a lack of energy) are another possible indicator of Lyme disease. This type of fatigue can often be debilitating and can’t be attributed to overexertion. Typically, you will just feel exhausted for no reason. If it’s attributed to Lyme disease, it can be cyclical and can change in severity from week to week. This type of fatigue also isn’t normally solved by taking a nap or getting more sleep at night. Because this symptom can result in misdiagnosis (often mistaken for conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome or depression), make sure to be clear with your doctor about what you’re experiencing.
5. Changes in mood
With more chronic cases of Lyme disease, the infection can affect how your brain works. If you notice feelings of depression or anxiety, it’s important to let your physician know how you’re feeling. Paying attention to feelings of sadness or hopelessness can help give your doctor a better idea of your mental state. This can give them clues on how to treat your Lyme disease more effectively.
6. Neurological symptoms
People with chronic Lyme disease can often experience cognitive decline, which appears as difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, or periods of confusion. Other neurological symptoms like loss of balance, facial palsy, or sensitivity to light should all be immediately reported to your doctor. Because these symptoms are also linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia, be sure to let the doctor know if you think Lyme disease might be at play.
These six symptoms are the most important ones to report to your doctor if you think you might have contracted Lyme disease. Don’t be afraid to ask for help even if you think your symptoms aren’t relevant or severe enough to warrant medical attention. Treating Lyme disease quickly and effectively is your best chance at getting back to health, so don’t hesitate to bring up your symptoms and concerns with your doctor as soon as you can.