Every year in the United States, bacterial infections from tick bites cause about 30,000 people to be diagnosed with Lyme disease. While antibiotics can clear up the infection, signs and symptoms of the disease can still be experienced up to six months after finishing the recommended treatment.
If you've had Lyme disease and are still having symptoms after finishing your medication, you could have chronic Lyme disease, also known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS). Although the exact cause of this condition isn't clear, it's thought that it develops because of the damage the initial infection caused to your body. It's also possible that the bacteria that causes Lyme disease can remain hidden in certain parts of your body, eventually causing long-lasting symptoms that are hard to clear up.
Who's More at Risk?
Although it can be mistaken for other syndromes, like fibromyalgia, chronic Lyme disease only occurs in people who previously had Lyme disease. Research shows that as many as 36 percent of people who have Lyme disease remain sick, even after standard treatment with antibiotics. You may be more likely to develop chronic Lyme disease if your symptoms were especially severe.
How Is Chronic Lyme Disease Diagnosed?
If you've had Lyme disease in the past and are still experiencing symptoms, such as extreme fatigue, rash, fever, chills, or body aches, it's important to talk with your doctor as soon as possible about your experience.
Your doctor may order further testing to rule out any other medical conditions that could be causing your symptoms. He or she may also ask about your personal medical history and the severity of your symptoms, and a physical examination may be performed.
Your doctor may also recommend that you have certain laboratory tests done. Most often, physicians use an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test to diagnose Lyme disease, but these tests can be unreliable and give false-positive results. If your ELISA test comes back positive, your doctor may confirm the results using a Western blot test, which detects the proteins your immune system makes to target the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.
What Happens if You Don't Receive Treatment?
Untreated chronic Lyme disease can have devastating effects on your physical and psychological health, even leaving people unable to work due to their severe symptoms. If you don't seek out treatment quickly, it's possible this illness can lead to other serious complications, including the development of arthritis, heart problems, and cognitive difficulties, such as memory issues.
If you had Lyme disease in the past but are still experiencing symptoms, it's extremely important to talk with your doctor. He or she can recommend further testing to determine if you have a persistent infection, and can advise you on the best treatment options for helping you feel better.