What Happens If Lyme Disease Is Left Untreated?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. You get Lyme disease when a tick infected with the bacteria bites you. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they receive about 30,000 reports of Lyme disease cases every year from state health departments. However, not all cases of Lyme disease are reported, and it’s estimated that the number of people infected every year in the United States is closer to 476,000. 

Lyme disease symptoms aren’t always obvious, which may explain the differences in the numbers reported to the CDC and the actual number of people infected. When undiagnosed and untreated, Lyme disease spreads to vital organs, leading to chronic, debilitating health problems.

At Integrative Medica, our naturopathic physicians, Dr. Jake Schmutz and Dr. Joshua Hersh, perform comprehensive evaluations to diagnose Lyme disease and create customized treatment plans. 

Here, we want to explain what happens when Lyme disease is left untreated.

Early signs and symptoms

Lyme disease symptoms develop in stages. Knowing the early signs and symptoms may help you get the testing and treatment you need to prevent long-term health complications. 

Erythema migrans — the bull’s-eye rash, it’s one of the early signs of Lyme disease and is often used to determine whether further testing is needed. 

A normal tick bite causes a reddened area around the bite. But with Lyme disease, the redness expands, creating a circular, oval, or triangular-shaped ring with a clear center, making it look like a bull’s-eye.

Other early symptoms of Lyme disease include fatigue, fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, and joint pain. The rash and physical symptoms usually appear within 3-30 days after the tick bite.

When Lyme disease is untreated

Not everyone infected with Lyme disease develops the bull’s-eye rash, and without it, they may not associate the other symptoms they experience (fever, headache, joint pain) with a tick bite.

If you miss the early stages of the disease, you may pick up on the next round of symptoms that appear about a month or more after your tick bite. Unfortunately, at this point the infection is more serious and has spread to other parts of the body, including the joints, heart, and nervous system.

During this stage of Lyme disease you may experience the following: 

When not treated early, Lyme disease may also affect the eyes, causing redness, swelling, pain, and even vision loss. 

Long-term complications

When Lyme disease remains untreated, existing symptoms worsen. During this later stage, you may develop arthritis in large joints like your knees, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling that lasts for days or weeks. 

Neurological symptoms become more common and affect cognitive functions like concentration and memory. Nerve damage also worsens and may involve multiple parts of the body like the skin, muscles, and organs. 

Treatment for Lyme disease depends on the stage of the disease and severity of symptoms. We customize care, combining conventional medical treatments (antibiotics) with alternative therapies (intravenous therapy, ozone therapy) to treat any and all body systems affected by the infection.

Lyme disease is common, and early diagnosis and treatment give you the best chance of a full recovery. Don’t ignore your symptoms. If you suspect you have Lyme disease, call our office or send us an online message so we can schedule an appointment at our Salt Lake City, Utah, office with other offices. 

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