Symptoms of Lyme disease 

The most common symptom of early stage Lyme disease is a distinctive circular skin rash, known as erythema migrans.

Left untreated, Lyme disease may also lead to more serious symptoms developing weeks, or sometimes several months, after you have been bitten by an infected tick.

You should only experience later symptoms if you are not treated with antibiotics during the initial stage of the condition.

Early symptoms of Lyme disease

The symptoms of early stage Lyme disease may develop three to 30 days after being bitten by an infected tick.

The rash develops at the site of the tick bite and is often described as looking like a bull’s-eye on a dart board. The affected area of skin will be red and feel slightly raised to the touch.

The size of the rash can range from between 2cm-30cm (0.7-12 inches) and in most people it expands over several days or weeks. For many people with Lyme disease, the rash may be the only symptom.

Some people may also experience flu-like symptoms in the early stages, such as:

Later symptoms of Lyme disease

If untreated, some people may develop more serious symptoms. This can affect the joints, nerves, and in rare cases, the heart.

You should seek medical advice if you experience any of the symptoms below.

Joint pain

Some people may experience episodes of inflammatory arthritis (swelling and pain in the joints). However, symptoms such as joint pain should eventually resolve by themselves, even if they are left untreated.

Neurological symptoms

Neurological symptoms (those that affect the nervous system) can include:

  • numbness and pain in your limbs
  • temporary paralysis of your facial muscles - usually only one half of the face is affected (sometimes known as Bell’s palsy)
  • impaired memory
  • difficulty concentrating
  • changes in personality

In rare cases, some people may develop a type of bacterial meningitis, a serious condition in which the meninges (the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord) become inflamed. The symptoms of meningitis include:

  • severe headache
  • stiff neck
  • increased sensitivity to light (photophobia)

Heart problems

In rare cases, untreated Lyme disease may lead to inflammation of the heart muscles (myocarditis).

Myocarditis can cause your heart to beat irregularly (palpitations), most often causing heart block.

Symptoms can include:

  • shortness of breath
  • fainting

Chronic Lyme disease

Chronic Lyme disease is a syndrome (a collection of symptoms) experienced by some people who have had Lyme disease.

The symptoms of chronic Lyme disease are similar to those of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, and it is thought that it might be triggered by late-stage Lyme disease. More research into this form of Lyme disease is needed.

Page last reviewed: 14/05/2013

Next review due: 14/05/2015