Since Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, many assume it’s simple to treat: you take antibiotics, and the bacteria die. However, that is not always the case. While some people can treat their Lyme disease with no issue, many go on to suffer long-term consequences from the infection. A condition known as post-Lyme disease syndrome affects many people, meaning they continue to experience Lyme disease symptoms long after treatment has occurred.
Lyme disease symptoms are not fun to deal with and can even cause permanent damage to various areas of the body. But how exactly do symptoms develop? And are Lyme disease symptoms cyclical or constant?
Lyme disease symptoms
Lyme disease is a tricky condition because many of its symptoms are non-specific. This means the condition presents similarly to many other disorders and health issues, making it hard to distinguish between a Lyme disease infection and many other conditions. Lyme disease is often called “the great imitator” because of this.
Almost every bodily system can be negatively affected by Lyme disease. The symptoms most commonly associated with Lyme include:
- Rashes that develop shortly after you contract the disease
- Fatigue that may feel as though you have come down with the flu
- Stiff, swollen, and painful joints
- Muscle aches
- Night sweats
- Difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night
- A decline in cognition that affects memory, learning, and concentration
- Vision changes and a new sensitivity to light
- Loss of balance and coordination
- Facial paralysis and weakness, often known as Lyme-induced facial palsy
- Discoloring of the skin
- Heart issues such as palpitations, chest pain, light-headedness, and shortness of breath
- Inflammation of the heart
- New or worsened depression or anxiety
- Chronic pain
- Ringing in the ears
- Hearing loss
- Jaw pain
A person with Lyme disease may not experience all these symptoms at once. It depends how and where the Lyme bacteria attacks the body.
Do symptoms of Lyme disease come and go?
Lyme disease is often referred to as a cyclical disease because the symptoms tend to go away and return. In the initial stages of the infection, the most common symptoms are those that mimic the flu. These will come on initially and then die down; a couple of weeks later, the same symptoms will return. Many people are unaware that they have contracted Lyme disease during this time.
This first part of a Lyme disease infection is referred to as Stage 1 or early localized disease, and lasts between one to four weeks. Stage 2, or early disseminated infection, begins roughly one to four months after a person contracts the bacteria. During the period between Stage 1 and Stage 2, the signs of the initial infection may clear and there may be a symptom-free period. Once Stage 2 sets in, the body will begin to experience other issues because the Lyme bacteria has spread to organs and other tissues.
The ailments that arise in Stage 2 can include:
- Pain in the muscles and bones
- Severe headaches
- Facial palsy
- Neck stiffness
- Heart rhythm changes
These symptoms may not all appear at once and typically come and go, much like Stage 1 symptoms.
Can Lyme disease flare up years later?
If Lyme disease isn’t treated during either Stage 1 or Stage 2, it then progresses to Stage 3, which is late disseminated Lyme disease. This stage presents with more severe symptoms such as:
- Mental fogginess, sleep disturbances, and other cognitive issues
- Numbness in the extremities
Unlike Stages 1 and 2, this stage can present with symptoms that stick around for more extended periods. Because the damage has already been done to the affected areas, things such as Lyme-induced arthritis and brain fog are typically constant.
That said, like many chronic diseases, some days may be better than others. People with Lyme disease often experience flare-ups when they have an established or late-stage infection. For some, symptoms may go away and then come back again. For others, symptoms may be constant and worsen when they are experiencing a flare-up. It is highly dependent on the person, their body, and the area that has been affected by the Lyme bacteria.
Because Lyme disease is notoriously difficult to get rid of, the best thing you can do is to keep yourself protected from the infection in the first place. If you are going to be in a tick-infested area, wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and always check for ticks. Being vigilant will reduce your risk of contracting Lyme disease.