Lyme disease, if left untreated, can potentially result in painful arthritis for patients.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 300,000 cases of Lyme disease occur in the United States each year, mainly in the Northeast and Upper Midwest areas of the country.
Besides flulike symptoms and body aches, the clearest symptom indicating Lyme disease is a rash that looks like a bull’s-eye, with a white, pink, or red center and a ring of pink around it.
Lyme disease, which is transmitted through a bite from an infected tick, can be treated with antibiotics during the first few days or weeks after infection, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Although some have a few lingering body aches or symptoms of fatigue after early treatment, for most, Lyme disease becomes a distant memory.
If Lyme disease is not caught within the first few weeks of infection, however, long-term problems can result. The National Institutes of Health reports up to 60 percent of Lyme disease sufferers that aren’t treated right away later develop arthritis in their knees and other joints.
Lyme arthritis usually develops during stage 3 Lyme disease, occurring months or years after the infection. The New York Times reports short-term memory problems and even Lyme carditis, or inflammation around the heart, may also develop, along with unexplained body pains similar to fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.
Doctors often still try to treat Lyme arthritis sufferers with antibiotics like tetracycline or doxycycline, although the level of success will vary greatly when Lyme is not diagnosed and treated early. Symptoms of Lyme arthritis may be ongoing and permanent without early diagnosis and treatment, leaving sufferers to rely on treatments other than antibiotics for the symptoms of their ongoing arthritis pain.
Lyme arthritis is sometimes confused with rheumatoid arthritis, a condition with similar symptoms but which has an autoimmune source rather than an infectious one.