Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is often called the “great imitator,” because its symptoms are pretty non-specific in nature. This means that they may appear due to a variety of different conditions, so it can be hard to narrow down a diagnosis of Lyme disease based solely on symptoms. Some conditions that are often misdiagnosed when a person actually has Lyme disease include fibromyalgia, arthritis, and even multiple sclerosis.
Since Lyme may present in various ways, many people may be unsure of what symptoms to look out for if they think they may have come into contact with an infected tick and are at risk of Lyme disease. While the late-stage symptoms of Lyme disease mimic more serious conditions, the early signs that your body has become infected will present similarly to the flu. But how do these symptoms feel when they’re caused by Lyme? And is there a way to tell the difference between typical flu symptoms and Lyme disease? Read on to find out.
How do you feel when you have Lyme disease?
Lyme disease can manifest in various ways; the way one person experiences the condition may not be the same way another person does. Some common signs and symptoms of Lyme disease also vary depending on when the infection began. In the early stages, flu-like symptoms can be present. However, they can be so mild that someone may not even notice they’re unwell, or may only feel unwell enough to self-medicate the symptoms at home.
The problem with this is that if Lyme disease is left untreated, it can lead to a host of different health issues, all of which may lead to permanent and lasting damage. For example, if the bacteria that causes Lyme disease manages to infiltrate the joints, it can lead to Lyme arthritis – a condition that mimics regular arthritis symptoms but is caused by the bacterial infection.
In the very beginning, the flu-symptoms that Lyme disease may cause include:
- Muscle and joint aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A bullseye like rash in the area of the tick bite
While it can be tempting to ignore these symptoms, especially if they are mild, seeking medical attention if you live in a tick-heavy area or have found a tick-bite (even if there’s no rash) can help you determine if you have contracted Lyme disease. Early treatment is vital, so it’s important to get tested as soon as possible.
What do Lyme disease headaches feel like?
Headaches are one of the most commonly reported symptoms of a Lyme disease infection. The reason headaches happen in Lyme disease is because the bacteria that causes the disease can make its way through the body and into the central nervous system, which is the communication pathway between the brain and body. When they do cross that blood-brain barrier, they inflame the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal card. This is what is referred to as meningitis.
In many cases, the headaches that are caused by Lyme disease can feel very painful and similar to severe migraine. The symptoms associated with Lyme disease headaches can include:
- Intense pain in the head
- A feeling of pressure around the head
- Nausea and/or vomiting because of the severe pain
- An increased sensitivity to light
- Seeing spots or a visual aura much like a migraine aura
- Feeling weak or numb on one side of the face
- Vision loss accompanied by seeing spots or flashing lights
- A tingling sensation in the hands, lips, and tongue on one side of the body
- Uncontrolled movements
Lyme headaches can occur a few times a week or every day. When the membranes are inflamed because of the infection, the headache may also be accompanied by a stiff neck. Lyme disease headaches can be so severe that it can take up to three days to recover.
That being said, during the initial stages of the infection when the rest of the flu-like symptoms are present, the headaches will not be as severe because the bacteria hasn’t yet had time to cross the blood-brain barrier.
What are the worst symptoms of Lyme disease?
It’s important to acknowledge flu-like symptoms if you live in an area where ticks are present or you have recently been in a wooded region, because when Lyme disease is left untreated, it can lead to severe health consequences. Very often, the worst symptoms of Lyme disease are ones that you may not have even known could happen after a tick bite.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most severe symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- Severe headaches (as mentioned above)
- Facial paralysis, a condition known as Bell’s palsy
- Muscle, joint, tendon, and bone aches
- Heart disorders, a condition known as Lyme carditis
- Additional skin rashes other than the one that presents at the onset of infection
- Dizzy spells
- Nerve pain
While not all flu-like symptoms you feel will be caused by Lyme disease, it is important to pay attention to both your body and your recent surroundings if you have been in an area frequented by ticks. One trick to telling the difference between Lyme disease and a typical flu is the consistency of the symptoms. Lyme flu-like symptoms tend to come and go, whereas typical flu symptoms will be persistent until your body has recovered, after which they will subside.
Lyme disease can cause permanent damage. Knowing you have Lyme as early as possible is key to overcoming the symptoms and avoiding any possible long-term effects.