Lyme disease symptoms can mimc many other diseases, making a swift diagnosis difficult. That’s problematic, as rates of Lyme disease are on the rise.
Today, Lyme disease is considered to be the most common tickborne infectious disease in the United States. In 2013, federal health departments reported 27,203 confirmed cases and another 9,104 probable cases of Lyme disease in the U.S alone. (The real infection rate is believe to be much higher.)
Experts believe that diagnosis is more common today due to growing infection rates and greater awareness and better diagnostic tools. Most people know Lyme disease as an infection or autoimmune disease that is caused by deer ticks. That’s true, but there’s more to the story.
Not all ticks are infected and not everyone who gets bitten by a tick carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme will react the same way. Research shows that tick infection rates vary from 0 to 70 percent even within the same region. Beyond that, patients experience a wide range of symptoms once infected.
This means that individual responses play an important role in preventing and managing Lyme disease. Add to that the fact that the standard test available to screen for the disease miss up to 35 percent of cases and it’s easy to see why Lyme is such a complicated topic.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a chronic condition caused when someone develops an immune reaction to a type of bacteria that’s passed through tick and possibly insect bites. Deer ticks (also called Ixodes ticks) and black-legged ticks carrying the bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi are the two types of insects that spread Lyme disease most often. Experts suspect that certain spiders, fleas and mosquitoes could also potentially carry and spread the disease.
Once the tick or insect bites someone, it transmits the bacteria into the bloodstream. This usually causes a host of autoimmune-like symptoms within several months — including fatigue, fever, headaches and sometimes a rash. The real risk associated with Lyme disease is leaving it untreated for many years, which can cause complications that affect the vital organs, blood vessels and the entire immune system.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that untreated Lyme disease can lead to serious infections, degeneration of the joints and symptoms of arthritis. CDC also notes left untreated, Lyme can cause heart and blood vessel complications, nerve damage and various other problems of the endocrine and central nervous systems.
In other words, Lyme symptoms go far beyond achy joints.
Lyme Disease Symptoms
The Lyme Disease Organization— a group created to support advocacy, research and education about the disease — conducted a survey looking at Lyme disease symptoms in more than 5,000 people with Lyme disease. The group found that 74 percent experienced at least one symptom they would consider to be “severe.” On average, three severe or very severe symptoms were present at any given time.
Symptoms of Lyme disease are somewhat different during the early stages of the disease compared to the later stages when it is considered “chronic.” Experts created a lengthy list of common symptoms that people can use as a helpful “Lyme disease checklist” if they suspect they might have been infected.
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