Lyme disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can be spread to humans by infected ticks. It's usually easier to treat if it's diagnosed early.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

Many people with early symptoms of Lyme disease develop a red, circular skin rash around a tick bite.

This can appear up to 30 days after being bitten by a tick.

What are ticks?
A tick on the skin Credit:


Ticks are tiny, spider-like creatures that live in woods and areas with long grass. They are found all over the UK.

Ticks don't jump or fly – they attach to the skin of animals or humans that brush past them. Once a tick bites into the skin it feeds on blood for a few days before dropping off.

Not everyone with Lyme disease gets the rash. Some people also have flu-like symptoms in the early stages, such as:

  • a high temperature, or feeling hot and shivery
  • headaches
  • muscle and joint pain
  • tiredness and loss of energy
Later symptoms of Lyme disease

Some people with Lyme disease who aren't diagnosed or treated develop more severe symptoms months or years later. For example, pain and swelling in joints and problems with the nerves and heart.

Most tick bites are harmless

Only a small number of ticks are infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. A tick bite can only cause Lyme disease in humans if the tick has already bitten an infected animal.

It's still important to be aware of ticks and remove them safely as soon as possible just in case.

Public Health England has produced a factsheet on tick bites and your health. This gives important details on:

  • the health risks of tick bites
  • how to check your skin for ticks
  • how to remove a tick
  • how to prevent tick bites

Tick bites aren't always painful. You may not notice a tick unless you see it on your skin. Regularly check your skin and your children or pets' skin after being outdoors.

See a GP if you have symptoms of Lyme disease.

Let the GP know if:

  • you've been bitten by a tick
  • you've never seen a tick on your skin but have spent time in woods or areas with long grass

What happens at your appointment

Your GP will ask about your symptoms and consider any recent tick bites you know about.

Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose. It has similar symptoms to other conditions and there isn't always an obvious rash.

Two types of blood test are available to help confirm Lyme disease. You may need to be re-tested if you still have symptoms after a negative result.

Treatment from a GP

If your GP thinks you might have Lyme disease, they'll prescribe a 2 to 3 week course of antibiotics. It's important to finish the course, even if you start to feel better.

Some people with severe symptoms will be referred to a specialist in hospital for injections of stronger antibiotics.

People with symptoms of Lyme disease that last a long time will be referred to a specialist in hospital for advice and more blood tests.

Post-infectious Lyme disease

A few people who are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease develop long-term symptoms such as tiredness, aches and loss of energy. This is known as post-infectious Lyme disease.

The symptoms of post-infectious Lyme disease are often compared to fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

It's not clear why this happens to some people and not others. This means there is also no agreed treatment for post-infectious Lyme disease.

Some websites offer tests and treatment for Lyme disease that may not be supported by scientific evidence. Speak to your doctor for advice before buying tests or treatment online.

Page last reviewed: 24/08/2017
Next review due: 24/08/2020

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