The Lyme disease symptoms you’ve probably heard about are the most noticeable, physical ones (the bull’s eye rash, joint pain etc.), but there are actually a number of symptoms that are not as obvious. Because Lyme disease can be tricky to diagnose, it’s crucial that you pay attention to some of the more subtle signs that you’ve got Lyme disease. Check out our list below of eight things to check for when monitoring your health.
Lyme disease has aroused much more awareness in recent years as the research surrounding it has increased. But it was actually first discovered back in the 1970s in a town called Lyme, Connecticut. Scientists began studying the link between tick bites and symptoms of an infection they named Lyme. Ticks have shown to be potential carriers for this harmful bacteria. The symptoms after a tick bite that transmits Lyme can include, but are not limited to: the bull’s eye rash mentioned above, joint and muscle pain, flu-like symptoms (including headaches, fever, malaise etc.), and extreme fatigue. These symptoms can show up immediately or for as long as up to three months after the tick bite occurs. They’re also not the same for every person – some people may not develop a bull’s eye rash or other symptoms like joint pain. Acute Lyme disease typically gets better with a course of antibiotics under medical supervision. However, there are people who develop chronic Lyme disease if they don’t respond to antibiotics or if they didn’t receive a Lyme diagnosis right away. In fact, Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed because it can masquerade as other disorders, including chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, fibromyalgia and arthritis. In order to avoid developing chronic Lyme disease, it's recommended that you immediately see a doctor for treatment if you think you might have been bitten by a tick.
Because it’s essential to avoid a misdiagnosis and to receive proper treatment right away, there are some more subtle signs that you’ve got Lyme disease that you should take note of and then report to your doctor.
You have symptoms that disappear and reappear.
With most conditions, your symptoms stay virtually the same until you get better. However, with Lyme disease, symptoms can come and go with ‘flare-ups’ every couple of weeks. You might notice joint pain or extreme fatigue that shows up every two to four weeks. This can be confusing for you if you’re monitoring your symptoms; if your symptoms sometimes disappear, you might question whether you’re truly sick. But please note: just because your symptoms aren’t there all the time, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have Lyme disease.
Your pain doesn’t stay in one place.
Lyme disease patients also frequently note migratory pain (or pain that moves from one body part to another). For example, your right knee might feel sore or achy, and then the next week your left knee might hurt instead. This is typical of Lyme disease. You also might notice that the actual sensation of pain differs, from a sore ache to a shooting pain the next day.
You’re way more tired than usual.
With Lyme disease, you could start to experience a tired feeling that’s more serious than any normal fatigue. You might notice that no amount of sleep can help with the low energy you’re feeling (even naps or more hours of sleep at night don’t do the trick). Lyme disease patients also commonly report that they have insomnia issues (such as having trouble falling asleep, waking up during the night, or waking up earlier than intended in the morning). If you find that the constant fatigue you feel is overwhelming, it could be a sign you’ve contracted Lyme.
You start having problems with your immune system.
Feel like you’re getting sick all the time? Lyme disease can wreak havoc on your immune system. While anyone with a chronic condition has an increased risk of getting sick, Lyme patients can also have immune systems that are hyperactive. So you might notice that you have an increased intolerance to changes in your environment (like smells or chemicals). Some people also have worsened side effects or allergic reactions to medications or certain foods.
You’re experiencing emotional problems.
There are a lot of reasons why you might experience issues with your mental health if you have Lyme. First, dealing with any health problems can lead to depression and anxiety. But Lyme can also cause inflammation of your brain, which might leave you with more sadness, anxiety, anger or irritability. If you start to find that you’re experiencing significant mood swings or markedly different changes in your personality or behaviour, it’s possible that Lyme is at play.
You notice cognitive problems.
Because of the above-mentioned inflammation in the brain, Lyme disease can also cause cognitive issues and memory problems. If you suddenly find it extremely difficult to concentrate, or feel like you can’t remember short-term things, you might want to get evaluated for a possible Lyme diagnosis.
You’ve been diagnosed with another condition that doesn’t totally fit your symptoms.
Lyme disease is so often misdiagnosed that it’s certainly possible you’ve ended up with a different diagnosis – one that doesn’t quite fit your health issues. If your doctor diagnosed you with something because they couldn’t determine the root cause of your symptoms, it’s still possible that you have Lyme. It’s important to follow your gut with this. If you don’t think your initial diagnosis is accurate, ask your doctor about ruling out Lyme disease, or consult with another medical professional who will take your concerns seriously until you end up with the appropriate diagnosis.
Your symptoms change when you take antibiotics.
One of the huge indicators that you’ve got Lyme is if your symptoms respond to courses of antibiotics. If you have flare-ups on antibiotics, this could be what’s known as a Herxheimer reaction. When the Lyme bacteria is killed, it releases toxins that can be inflammatory to the body (leading to more pronounced symptoms). However, because Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics, you might also find over time that your symptoms have improved. So, either way, changes in your symptoms with antibiotics can be a marker for whether you have Lyme disease.
If you’re wondering ‘Have I got Lyme disease?’, pay attention to the clues your body might be giving you. Try keeping a journal of your daily symptoms so you can keep track of what you’re experiencing, and so you have a better chance of noticing patterns or changes. Then be sure to communicate with your doctor about what you’ve noticed. Advocate for a proper Lyme disease diagnosis if you think you’ve been bitten by a tick or if you have many of the above symptoms.