Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States, with about 20,000 new cases reported each year. It was first identified in 1975 when a group of children in Old Lyme, Connecticut, had mysterious arthritis-like symptoms. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium B. burgdorferi, which is carried by deer ticks.
Not every bite from a deer tick causes Lyme disease. It is more likely to happen if the tick stays attached to your skin for 36 hours or more. Cases have been reported in nearly all states, and the disease is also on the rise in large areas of Asia and Europe.
It is very important to get early treatment for Lyme disease, so if you have any symptoms, you should call your doctor immediately. Although symptoms may go away after a while, that does not mean the disease is gone. People who get early treatment with antibiotics usually get better without any complications. But if it's not treated, Lyme disease can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system.
Signs and Symptoms
Lyme disease has three stages.
Localized Early Stage
A red rash appears within a few weeks of a tick bite, starting as a small red spot at the site of the bite. The spot gets bigger over time, making a circle or oval and sometimes looking like a bull's eye. The rash can range in size from that of a dime to the entire width of a person's back. As the infection spreads, rashes can show up at different places on the body. You may also have flu-like symptoms.
Early Disseminated Stage
What Causes It?
Deer ticks carrying the bacterium B. burgdorferi bite people. The bacteria get into the skin, after the infected tick has been in place for 36 - 48 hours.
Who's Most At Risk?
Your risk of Lyme disease may be higher if you:
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Lyme disease can be hard to diagnose because many of its symptoms look like those of other illnesses, and there is no definitive lab test for Lyme disease. About 20% of people with Lyme disease do not get a rash. Tell your doctor if you think you may have been bitten by a tick. Your doctor may order these tests:
The best defense against Lyme disease is to guard against tick bites. Don't go into heavily wooded areas, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and apply tick repellent. Use an insect repellent with DEET. Wear light-colored clothing, which makes ticks easier to see, and inspect your body carefully after you've been outdoors. If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers, making sure to remove the head as well as the body. Seeing your doctor and taking antibiotics within 3 days of a tick bite may prevent Lyme disease.
Your health care provider may prescribe the following medications:
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
You should never treat Lyme disease with complementary therapies alone. Anyone who has Lyme disease needs to take antibiotics to cure the disease and avoid complications. Lyme disease does affect many parts of your body, so including complementary therapies along with standard treatment may help.
Some people believe they have long-lasting complications from Lyme disease. Using CAM therapies to treat these long-lasting complications is controversial, with some conventional doctors believing that CAM practitioners are attributing too many random symptoms as being from Lyme disease. Make sure you see reputable doctors, whether conventional or CAM practitioners, and educate yourself so that you can be your own advocate.
Always tell all of your doctors about the herbs and supplements you are using or considering using.
Nutrition and Supplements
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner.
Few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. Professional homeopaths, however, may recommend treatments for Lyme disease based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. In some cases, such as Lyme disease, a professional homeopath may prescribe specific remedies without considering the individual's constitutional state. Such remedies for Lyme disease include:
Prognosis and Possible Complications
Most people who are treated with antibiotics make a full recovery. Getting early treatment can help avoid complications.
If you have a severe and advanced case of Lyme disease with varied symptoms, your health care provider may want to see you regularly.
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Review Date: 7/7/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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