Knowing about Lyme disease symptoms can help the patients with this infection deal with it. Lymes disease is an infectious bacterial disease caused by a bacterium from the genus Borrelia. Lyme disease is zoonosis (tick borne) and is transmitted to humans when infected ticks belonging to the genus Ixodes bite them. There are 11 known species of genus Borrelia, and these three have been found to be responsible for spreading Lyme disease:
• Borrelia Burgdorferi- found in Europe and North America,
• Borrelia Afzelii- found in Eurasia.
• Borrelia Garinii- again found in Eurasia.
When an infected tick from the genus Ixodes bites a human being, its saliva is transmitted into the human skin. The components of its saliva lower the normal immune response to a bite and allow the accompanying spirochaetes to settle down in the infected area. Following this, the spirochaetes multiply and spread in the skin, causing the Lyme disease symptoms to become visible.
Various systems and parts of the body can get affected by Lyme disease, and the symptoms could vary from individual to individual. From the time of getting bitten by an infected tick, the symptoms could take upto two weeks to become visible, though this incubation period might be even longer in certain cases.
Three stages of Lyme disease symptoms have been medically prescribed:
Stage I: Early localized disease
In this stage, which begins to manifest itself soon after the tick bite (this period could be three to thirty days), the area around the bitten portion develops a reddish rash. Though there is no inflammation or pain in the affected area, Lyme disease patient complains of flu-like symptoms and suffers from general bodyaches, stiffness of muscles and joints, soreness of muscles, headache and swollen lymph nodes. All these symptoms are generally mistaken for a viral infection- more so because the patient can not even recall being bitten by a tick (due to its very small size).
The classic red rash accompanying the tick bite is clear in the centre and bright red on the periphery, causing it to be known as the “bull’s eye rash”. This red rash caused by Lyme disease is referred to as Erythema Migrans (EM) in medical parlance. Almost 80% of the infected people develop EM.
There might be people who do not develop a rash on being bitten by an infected tick. In such people, Lyme disease progresses to later stages directly. Even among the people who do develop this rash, the redness disappears in due course of time even without any treatment. But by that time, deadlier symptoms start making an appearance.
Stage II: Early disseminated disease
Some weeks after the initial stage, the heart and the nervous system get affected as the Borrelia bacteria begin to spread throughout the body via the bloodstream. Other organs of the body also start showing Lyme disease symptoms. Symptoms can vary widely and may include:
• Facial palsy or Bell’s palsy i.e. the paralysis of the facial nerve. This can cause a distortion in the muscles of the face but in most cases, this condition gets better without medical intervention.
• Meningitis which can further cause stiffness in the neck, fever and headache.
• EM starts appearing at places which have not even been bitten by a tick. These secondary lesions, which can be oval or circular in shape, may grow to the size of a football- the increasing size of these rashes or lesions is typical to Lyme disease
• Inflammation of the nerves causing numbness and ‘pins and needles’ sensation in arms and/or legs.
• Mild encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) which can cause difficulties in learning, loss of memory, insomnia and even dementia.
• Borrelial Lymphocytoma, or a development of a purplish lump on the nipples of the breasts, the scrotum or ear lobes.
• Intermittent arthritis, which usually affects the knees and the wrists and can last upto a week. If Lyme disease is left untreated, this may recur at regular intervals and become chronic.
• Carditis, or an inflammation of the heart which causes irregularities in the heartbeat.
Stage III: Late persistent infection
If left untreated or inadequately treated, infected people develop chronic and, at times, life threatening symptoms that might affect various parts of the body like the nerves, brain, joints, eyes and heart. Lyme disease symptoms at this stage include:
• Permanent paraplegia, or deterioration of the sensory and motor functions of the lower limbs.
• Polyneuropathy i.e. shooting pain and numbness in the hands and feet.
• Malaise and profound fatigue.
• Lyme encephalopathy, a cognitive disorder that causes loss of concentration and memory.
• Frank psychosis, characterized by panic attacks, anxiety and delusional behavior which is usually mis-diagnosed as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
• Bladder problems.
• Severe back pain.
• Awkwardness in gait.
• Lyme arthritis, which takes a toll on the knees.
• People suffering from Lyme disease are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression as well.