an insidious disease
Detecting Lyme disease in good time
It is estimated that around 100,000 to 200,000 new people are infected with Lyme disease each year in Germany alone. Since the disease develops slowly, early treatment with antibiotics is important in order to avoid complications later on.
Cause and transmission of Lyme disease
Lyme disease is caused by spiral-shaped bacteria known as borrelia. These bacteria are usually transmitted to humans or also to animals, such as dogs or horses, through a tick bite. However, ticks are not the only transmitters. Mosquitoes, horse flies or even lice can be infected and pass this on to humans through a bite. Even direct contact with an infected person or animal's blood, as in the case of blood transfusions, could cause an infection. It is almost certain that a mother can give the disease to her unborn baby.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
As soon as the bacteria reach the bloodstream, they spread throughout the entire body, destroying tissue and attacking the nervous system. The borrelia bacteria can spread to almost all organs – even the brain – and cause damage there. This explains the wide diversity of possible symptoms which can occur with Lyme disease:
- Skin rashes and irritation
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fatigue, prolonged tiredness and feeling of weakness
- Headaches and body aches
- Muscle aches and nerve pain
- Swollen joints
- General feeling of illness, flu-like symptoms
- Decreased short-term memory or ability to concentrate
- Personality changes
- Sudden mood swings
These symptoms can appear alone or in different combinations and very often episodically.
Recognizing Lyme disease
Before Lyme disease can be properly treated, it needs to be identified. If we look at the symptoms listed above, we can see how general some of these are and how easily they could be attributed to other illnesses. This makes it more difficult to clearly diagnose Lyme disease.
One reliable sign of an infection with the borrelia bacteria is a spreading rash (erythema migrans). This is usually a clearly defined, circular-shaped skin rash, sometimes resembling a bull's eye, which generally appears only a few hours after the bite but may take a couple of weeks to become visible. It can vary in appearance, frequently expanding in diameter and gradually becoming paler in the center. Regrettably, this rash is only present in approx. 50 % of the cases, meaning that you could be infected, even if you do not see this type of rash.
If you have been bitten by a tick, we recommend that you pay close attention to your body over the following weeks. In addition to the spreading rash, other early signs of Lyme disease include flu-like symptoms such as general feeling of weakness, fatigue, aches and pains, swollen joints or headaches. If these symptoms occur and you were bitten by a tick before they started, you should always consider the possibility of an infection with the borrelia bacteria.
Acute or chronic Lyme disease?
The time between a tick bite and the spreading rash caused by this is known as acute Lyme disease or the initial phase of the disease. If treated for a 3-4 week period with antibiotics, there is a very good chance of a full recovery, meaning that the disease can be stopped in this initial phase.
However, if the infection and developing Lyme disease is not detected and treated, the second phase begins. At this stage, the bacteria have spread throughout the body and infected various organs. The term used for the infection of the nervous system is neuroborreliosis. The potential symptoms are signs of paralysis e.g. facial paralysis (facial nerve paresis) or even sensitivity disorders. In addition to the nerves, the heart is also often affected. This could materialize as cardiac arrhythmias.
The third phase is reached several months or even years after the original infection. Patients frequently experience joint problems, so-called Lyme arthritis, in which single or multiple joints show inflammation, swelling up and causing pain. Chronic Lyme disease with paralysis due to chronic inflammation of the brain or spinal cord may also occur. The symptoms can be prolonged or might occur in episodes. Along with the accompanying symptoms, chronic Lyme disease can be a real burden for those suffering from it and often reduces their quality of life significantly. Early diagnosis and treatment is therefore very important.