Arthritis and Lyme disease

If left untreated, Lyme disease can result in painful arthritis.

Many parts of the country experienced a mild winter. Unfortunately, the lack of cold temperatures means that the tick population not only survived but actually thrived. Many of those ticks carry diseases including Lyme disease. With people spending more time outside in the wake of Covid-19, it is more important than ever to perform daily tick checks.  If left untreated, Lyme disease can result in painful arthritis.

The CDC reports an estimated 300,000 cases of Lyme disease each year in the United States.  Most cases are contained to the Northeast, Southeast and Midwest parts of the country.

Lyme disease is transmitted through a bite from an infected tick.  Patients typically experience flu-like symptoms including body aches.  The most condemning evidence of Lyme comes in the form of a rash that looks like a bull’s-eye – a white, pink or red center with a ring of pink surrounding it.

Lyme is usually treated with antibiotics and for most patients symptoms clear relatively easily with just a few lingering body aches and fatigue.  However, if the disease is not caught in the early stages, long-term problems can persist. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), up to 60 percent of Lyme disease patients aren’t treated right away and later develop painful arthritis in their knees and other joints.

Arthritis associated with Lyme disease develops during stage 3, months or even years after the initial infection.  Further complications such as short-term memory loss and inflammation around the heart are also possible.  Many patients report feeling consistent body aches and pain similar to those associated with chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia.

Sometimes, Lyme arthritis is confused with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) because their symptoms mimic each other.  However, RA is an autoimmune disease, rather than an infectious disease.

Below are the symptoms and stages of Lyme disease:

Stage 1

  • Bull’s-eye rash
  • Flu-like symptoms

Stage 2 – Approximately one to four months following initial infection, patients enter stage two.  Stage one symptoms intensify, and some new symptoms appear.  The bull’s-eye rash may spread to other parts of the body.

  • Visual disturbances
  • Heart issues
  • Nerve pain

Stage 3 – Months and often years after infection, symptoms of Lyme disease can emerge.  Patients usually experience chronic muscle and joint pain and swelling.  Without treatment, further complications are possible.

  • Arthritis

All of this is not to say you need to spend your spring and summer inside.  But there are precautions you can take.  When spending a lot of time outside, wear light-colored clothing and tall socks, so you can easily spot a tick on you.  Before bed each night, do a “tick-check” of your body to ensure that there are none.  If you live in a high-risk area and do develop flu-like symptoms, be sure to contact your doctor right away as early intervention can help prevent later, more dangerous stages including arthritis.

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