Treatments for Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is the most common arthropod-borne illness in the United States, with more than 150,000 cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since 1982, states the American Lyme Disease Foundation. The blacklegged tick (deer tick) is the arthropod that causes the spread of Lyme disease.

Treatments for Lyme disease can depend on symptoms

A bite from a blacklegged tick can infect you with Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacterium. This bacterium can cause several symptoms to develop, including headache, fatigue, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes and fever. Sometimes a skin rash appears as well. The CDC states that 70 to 80 percent of people infected with Lyme disease suffer from erythema migrans (EM), also called a bull's-eye rash. It will start at the origin of the bite and spread outward in the shape of a bull's-eye.

Basic treatments for Lyme disease

Antibiotics are the typical treatment for someone suffering from Lyme disease. These may include oral medications, such as amoxicillin, cefuroxime axetil or doxycyline. If you are diagnosed with Lyme disease and are suffering from another medical problem or disease, an intravenous round of antibiotic may be needed. According to the CDC, doctors may treat with intravenous drugs, such as ceftriaxone or penicillin. Cardiac patients stricken with Lyme disease typically will need intravenous treatments.

Length of treatment

The treatment of oral antibiotics, including amoxicillin, cefuroxime axetil and doxycyline, are prescribed for about two to three weeks, or a 14- to 21-day cycle. These types of oral antibiotics are designed to eliminate any infections caused by the Lyme disease.

When oral antibiotics don't work

Sometimes a cycle of oral antibiotics does not eliminate the symptoms and infection often encountered with Lyme disease. The next step your doctor may take is to prescribe a treatment of intravenous antibiotic. The Mayo Clinic reminds patients that some people may have side effects with intravenous antibiotics. These side effects may include, but are not limited to, diarrhea (sometimes severe), low white blood cell count and even an infection with another antibiotic-resistant organism.

Lingering symptoms and further treatment

On rare occasions, some Lyme disease patients suffer from lingering symptoms even after antibiotics kill any infections. Typically, these symptoms are fatigue and general muscle aches. Research is inconclusive as to why some people suffer from these lingering symptoms.

Treatment warning

The Mayo Clinic reports a warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding the alternative Lyme disease treatment known as bismacine. Bismacine, also known as chromacine, has large amounts of metal bismuth, which has not been approved by the FDA for injections or as a Lyme disease treatment. Bismuth poisoning can cause failure of the heart and/or kidneys.

Prevention so treatment is not needed

The American Lyme Disease Foundation recommends several tactics for preventing tick bites. When outdoors, avoid sitting on the ground, wear light-colored clothes with a tight weave (to help you spot ticks quickly), treat clothing and exposed skin with a DEET insect repellant, and perform clothing and skin checks for ticks throughout the day. Remember, when using a repellant containing DEET, always follow the manufacturer's instructions.

If you have been bitten recently by a tick and suspect your symptoms may be Lyme disease, consult your physician immediately.

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