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3 Treatment Options For Lyme Arthritis

Lyme disease is transmitted by infected ticks. It is caused by the borrelia bacteria and can lead to initial health issues such as flu-like symptoms, muscle aches and pains, and a bulls-eye rash around the area of the bite. If Lyme disease is caught early and doesn’t have the chance to spread too far throughout the body, it can be easily treated with antibiotics. In some cases, though, antibiotics may miss some of the bacteria, and this can lead to significantly more serious health conditions such as Lyme arthritis.

Lyme arthritis is a condition that occurs when bacteria invade the tissue in the joints and cause inflammation. When this is left untreated, that inflammation worsens and can eventually lead to permanent damage in the affected joints. Roughly one in four people who get Lyme disease will develop Lyme arthritis. So what are the treatment options for Lyme arthritis? Read on to find out.

What are the symptoms of Lyme arthritis?

The symptoms of Lyme arthritis are much like the symptoms of other arthritic conditions. The main complaint is extensive swelling in one or several joints in the body. It is most commonly found in the knees, though other joints can be affected such as the larger joints of the shoulders and hips and smaller joints such as the ankles, elbows, jaw, and wrists. The swelling that occurs in a joint affected by Lyme arthritis may come and go sporadically or move throughout the body from one joint to another.

Another symptom commonly found in people with Lyme arthritis is pain during movement. Whenever the affected joint moves, it can cause pain, making it difficult for the joint to be used. If the affected joint is one or both of the knees, this can hinder a person’s mobility. The joint may also become warm to the touch.

Lyme arthritis symptoms tend to appear within one to three months following the initial infection.

tick on green leaf
Image by Erik Karits on Unsplash: Lyme disease is caused by ticks, but is Lyme arthritis reversible?

Can Lyme arthritis go away?

Lyme arthritis can be permanent or temporary. It all depends on how and when the patient seeks treatment. If treatment is prompt and rids the body of the bacteria quickly, the symptoms of Lyme arthritis will go away and there will likely be no permanent damage left to the joint.

In other instances, treatment can be put off. This could be for a variety of reasons. If someone is unaware that they could have contracted Lyme disease, it’s likely that their arthritic symptoms will first be examined as something else. This delay in the proper treatment could lead to bacteria permanently damaging the joints and tissue, and thus creating a long-lasting form of Lyme disease accompanied by arthritic symptoms.

How is Lyme arthritis treated?

Treatment for Lyme arthritis will depend on how long the bacteria has been in the system, what the damage is to the joints and tissue, and whether or not antibiotic treatment was sought following the first initial infection of Lyme disease. There are separate forms of treatment that are available for those with early-stage Lyme arthritis and those with later-stage Lyme arthritis.

1. Antibiotics

Since Lyme disease is caused by the borrelia bacteria, the first line of treatment is antibiotics. When Lyme disease is first suspected, those with the condition will need to undergo a four-week course of oral antibiotics. The antibiotics that are commonly used in the first 28-day course include doxycycline, amoxicillin, and cefuroxime. If the symptoms improve but are still persistent, a second 28-day course may be required.

In some cases, the symptoms may not go away following the oral antibiotics course. Those with symptoms that do not cease may have to undergo intravenous antibiotic therapy using different types of antibiotics. The intravenous antibiotic used is typically ceftriaxone, and the treatment course can last anywhere from 14 to 28 days.

antibiotic pills in hand
Image by Mark Fletcher-Brown on Unsplash: How to treat Lyme arthritis? With antibiotics.

2. Other medications

Other pain management medications such as NSAIDs may be used if arthritis symptoms continue to persist following antibiotic therapy courses. A polymerase chain reaction test may be done at that time to determine whether or not there is still borrelia bacteria within the system. If there is, another antibiotics course may be prescribed.

If the test comes back negative, the symptoms will be treated rather than the Lyme disease itself. Other medications such as oral hydroxychloroquine may be used alongside NSAIDs to help with the symptoms. At that point, seeing a specialist may be necessary.

3. Specialist treatment

If there is permanent damage to the joints and tissues involved, a specialist appointment with a rheumatologist is a third treatment option. The specialist will determine just how bad the damage is and coordinate a suitable treatment plan. Treatments from a specialist could involve other types of medications or possibly surgery to remove the joint tissue that is inflamed and causing the symptoms.

Featured image by Imani Bahati on Unsplash

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