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Disease From Ticks

Symptoms of Tickborne Illness

Many tickborne diseases can have similar signs and symptoms. If you get a tick bite and develop the symptoms below within a few weeks, see your healthcare provider.

The most common symptoms of tick-related illnesses include:

Your healthcare provider should evaluate the following before deciding on a plan for treatment:

  • Your symptoms,
  • the geographic region where you were bitten, and
  • lab tests, depending on the symptoms and the geographic region where you were bitten.
clipart image of a tick

Tick paralysis is thought to be caused by a toxin in the saliva of an attached tick. People with tick paralysis can experience weakness or paralysis that gradually moves up the body. These symptoms can sometimes resemble other neurologic conditions (for example, Guillain-Barré syndrome or botulism). Patients typically regain movement within 24 hours of removing the tick. Learn more at Tick paralysis: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopediaexternal icon

Lyme disease is caused by four main species of bacteria. Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii cause Lyme disease in the United States, while Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii are the leading causes in Europe and Asia. The most common tick-borne illness in these regions, Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of an infected black-legged tick, commonly known as a deer tick.

You’re more likely to get Lyme disease if you live or spend time in grassy and heavily wooded areas where ticks carrying Lyme disease thrive. It’s important to take common-sense precautions in tick-infested areas.

Symptoms

Bull's-eye rash characteristic of Lyme diseaseLyme disease rashOpen pop-up dialog box

The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease vary. They usually appear in stages, but the stages can overlap.

Early signs and symptoms

A small, red bump, similar to the bump of a mosquito bite, often appears at the site of a tick bite or tick removal and resolves over a few days. This normal occurrence doesn’t indicate Lyme disease.

However, these signs and symptoms can occur within a month after you’ve been infected:

  • Rash. From three to 30 days after an infected tick bite, an expanding red area might appear that sometimes clears in the center, forming a bull’s-eye pattern. The rash (erythema migrans) expands slowly over days and can spread to 12 inches (30 centimeters) across. It’s typically not itchy or painful but might feel warm to the touch.Erythema migrans is one of the hallmarks of Lyme disease, although not everyone with Lyme disease develops the rash. Some people develop this rash at more than one place on their bodies.
  • Other symptoms. Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, headache, neck stiffness and swollen lymph nodes can accompany the rash.

Later signs and symptoms

If untreated, new signs and symptoms of Lyme infection might appear in the following weeks to months. These include:

  • Erythema migrans. The rash may appear on other areas of your body.
  • Joint pain. Bouts of severe joint pain and swelling are especially likely to affect your knees, but the pain can shift from one joint to another.
  • Neurological problems. Weeks, months or even years after infection, you might develop inflammation of the membranes surrounding your brain (meningitis), temporary paralysis of one side of your face (Bell’s palsy), numbness or weakness in your limbs, and impaired muscle movement.

Less common signs and symptoms

Several weeks after infection, some people develop:

  • Heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat
  • Eye inflammation
  • Liver inflammation (hepatitis)
  • Severe fatigue

When to see a doctor

If you’ve been bitten by a tick and have symptoms

Only a minority of tick bites leads to Lyme disease. The longer the tick remains attached to your skin, the greater your risk of getting the disease. Lyme infection is unlikely if the tick is attached for less than 36 to 48 hours.

If you think you’ve been bitten and have signs and symptoms of Lyme disease — particularly if you live in an area where Lyme disease is common — contact your doctor. Treatment for Lyme disease is more effective if begun early.

See your doctor even if symptoms disappear

Visit your doctor even if signs and symptoms disappear — the absence of symptoms doesn’t mean the disease is gone. Untreated, Lyme disease can spread to other parts of your body for several months to years after infection, causing arthritis and nervous system problems. Ticks can also transmit other illnesses, such as babesiosis and Colorado tick fever.

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