Lyme disease infects people through the bite of a small tick, though the actual organism that causes the disease is a bacteria named borrelia burgdorferi. These bacteria and the ticks who carry them are most often found in forested areas of the Northeast, Pacific Northwest and Midwest. While most individuals who contract Lyme disease go through an initial round of fairly mild symptoms and then recover, some people develop complications months or years later, if the initial infection was left untreated. Catching Lyme disease in its early stages and treating the patient with antibiotics usually prevents the development of long-term complications.
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According to the American Academy of Family Physicians website FamilyDoctor.org, some symptoms of the neurological damage done by Lyme disease may include mood swings, difficulty remembering things or concentrating, a loss of memory and muscle weakness. The University of Maryland Medical Center warns that meningitis, poor motor coordination and Bell's palsy, a temporary paralysis of facial muscles, may also occur. Signs that meningitis might have taken hold in the brain include headaches and neck stiffness. Intravenous application of antibiotics for 14 to 28 days may cure the bacterial infection causing Lyme disease, although symptoms may take longer to dissipate. The standard antibiotics used in the treatment of late stage Lyme disease include ceftriaxone and penicillin.
Fewer than 10 percent of infected people develop heart problems, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Heart problems associated with Lyme disease include irregularities in heart rhythm, including heart palpitations or a slowing of the heart rate. Less obvious symptoms of heart issues caused by Lyme disease include lightheadedness, shortness of breath and fainting. Chest pain may also occur in some individuals.
A specific type of arthritis named Lyme arthritis may develop in some individuals exposed to Lyme disease, explains MayoClinic.com. The arthritis from Lyme disease often strikes the knees and arthritic attacks can last up to a few months at a time. During an attack, joints may feel painful and start to swell. Antibiotics may be used to treat chronic Lyme disease that presents with arthritis symptoms. Pain medication, especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and siphoning fluid from swollen joints can help ease sore, arthritic joints. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, approximately 60 percent of untreated people with Lyme disease will go on to develop arthritis and for 10 to 20 percent, the arthritis will be chronic.