18 Silent Signs You Could Have Lyme Disease
Lyme disease goes beyond bulls-eye rashes and flu-like symptoms. This bacterial infection, spread by ticks, can affect every system in the body. Talk to your doctor if you suspect you’ve had a tick bite and have these symptoms.
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Lyme disease is a bacterial infection you get from the bite of a deer tick. The early signs and symptoms are rash, fever, headache, and fatigue. You may also have muscle and joint aches, chills, and swollen lymph nodes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But there are many other unusual symptoms that might you might notice that could come along as the disease progresses.
You suddenly can’t multitask
Lyme disease can cause cognitive issues that make it hard to concentrate on more than one task. “Oftentimes people can attend to multiple things at one time even with background noise; it doesn’t distract them because they can focus,” says Kenneth Liegner, MD, internist in Pawling, New York, and author of In the Crucible of Chronic Lyme Disease: Collected Writings & Associated Materials. But for people with Lyme disease, sensory overload might make it hard to multitask. Learn more about what it’s really like to live with Lyme disease.
You’re abnormally forgetful
Age might not be to blame for your sudden forgetfulness. People with Lyme disease could experience short-term memory loss, making it hard to remember what other people said, where they put things, and when they made appointments, says Judith Leventhal, PhD, a psychologist licensed in the state of New York. “People who were avid readers have difficulty reading because they’re unable to retain what they read … even within the same page,” Dr. Liegner says. (Find out which states are most dangerous for Lyme disease.)
You can’t shake your fatigue
The exhaustion that Lyme patients can feel goes beyond sleepiness: You might feel too fatigued to stand up from the couch to go make a cup of soup, says Sandy Barenbaum, a licensed clinical social worker co-author of When Your Child Has Lyme Disease: A Parent’s Survival Guide and psychotherapist for people who have Lyme. “If you’re tired [without Lyme disease], you rest, get up, and you’re raring to go. A nap could fix it,” she says. “The fatigue of Lyme is equivalent to the fatigue of congestive heart failure.” Lyme disease can keep people from going through normal sleep cycles, adding to the exhaustion, Leventhal says. Here are other common medical reasons you could be tired all the time.
Your throat hurts
An extremely sore throat could be an indicator of Lyme disease. “When Lyme patients start out with a sore throat, it’s usually a very intense sore throat and often out of proportion to what a doctor would…expect to see for that level of sore throat,” says Pat Smith, president of the Lyme Disease Association. Check out these natural sore throat remedies.
It’s hard to filter out sounds
Your hearing can become hyperactive with Lyme, making it hard to focus on one conversation in a crowded room, and noises that a typical person wouldn’t pay attention to might seem suddenly unbearable. “I’ve heard patients who report they’re in their bedroom but can hear a faucet dripping in the kitchen half a house away,” Dr. Liegner says. “That’s very disturbing to them.” (Find out how to avoid tick-borne diseases when you’re outside.)
Your feet hurt
If your feet hurt for no obvious reason, Lyme might be behind your pain. Patients might not notice the soreness throughout the day, but they feel the jolt when they stand up after getting out of bed, says Daniel Cameron, MD, a Lyme disease expert in Mt. Kisco, New York. “They’re not really seeing anything by X-ray or exam, but it hurts when they stand on their feet,” he says. Find out which other types of joint pain are a sign of something serious.
Your heartbeat is slow
Lyme disease can cause heart problems, the most common being heart block, when inflammation blocks the electrical signals that let the heart know when to contract, causing it to beat too slowly, Dr. Liegner says. “If the heart becomes too slow, a person will pass out,” he says. Don’t miss these other scary diseases you can pick up from ticks.
You have headaches
Unlike a traditional migraine, the headaches that come with Lyme disease usually feel like pressure head pain, Dr. Cameron says. “People always think it’s sinuses,” he says. Barenbaum, who dealt with Lyme-related headaches for 40 years, says the ones she experienced were more severe than a typical sinus headache and felt as intense as a migraine. Here are more headache types and how to stop them.
You’ve lost appetite for certain foods
Lyme disease can affect your sense of taste, making foods you used to enjoy suddenly unappealing. Kids affected by Lyme disease might refuse the foods you serve. “It limits the number of foods they can eat,” Leventhal says. “It can look like an eating disorder because only certain foods or textures are tolerated.” (If you find a tick on your body, learn the only way you should ever remove it.)
You suddenly have compulsive behavior
With Lyme disease, sometimes the signals that usually tell brain circuits to turn off after you’ve finished a task don’t work properly, leading you to feel the need to do things over and over, Leventhal says. You might not be able to get out of the house until you’re satisfied that everything is in order. “We’ve all had the experience of making sure the oven is off. We check it and leave the house,” she says. “Someone with obsessive-compulsive symptoms keeps checking. They get to the front door and check it again to make sure.”
You’re searching for words
Cognitive issues cause some people with Lyme disease find themselves unable to come up with the words they want. “Sometimes they’ll substitute a different word because they can’t come up with it and can’t finish their sentence,” Smith says.
You’re sensitive to light
Lyme disease can make people extremely sensitive to light, sometimes to the degree that they need to wear sunglasses—or even sleep masks—indoors. “They’ll wear these extremely dense sunglasses…almost as dark as somebody who’s a welder would wear,” Dr. Liegner says. “It’s so painful for them to perceive light.” (Keep yourself safe from Lyme disease. Find out which natural tick repellent actually works.)
You have panic attacks
Some Lyme patients experience extreme fear. The episodes pass after a short time, but they can be scary in the moment, Smith says. “With a panic anxiety attack, oftentimes the heart starts racing and they get this fear and think they’re going to die,” she says. Don’t miss these other clear signs of a panic attack.
You’re sensitive to touch
With your sense of touch on high alert with Lyme disease, certain clothing textures might feel unbearable, and you might recoil from a person’s touch. The sensitivity could be so strong that children might have outbursts when they can’t tolerate certain feelings against their skin. “Kids can have temper tantrums and refuse to get dressed when the reality is they can’t tolerate the feeling of particular kinds of clothing or texture,” Leventhal says.
Your vision is blurry
People with Lyme sometimes find it hard to focus their eyes. If glasses aren’t helping your eyesight, it could be a sign of tick-borne illness, Dr. Cameron says. (It’s not just ticks: Learn about the other most dangerous bugs to avoid in the summer.)
Your period is irregular
When Lyme disease is flaring, hormonal fluctuations could cause women to have menstrual irregularities, Smith says. But a birth control pill (with a physician’s approval) can regulate the cycle and make periods more regular again, she says. Here are other reasons you might miss your period (besides being pregnant).
Your sex drive is down
In some cases, Lyme disease can infect the testes or ovaries, meaning men and women both could find their libido is low. “This can be a problem in relationships and in the quality of their lives,” Dr. Liegner says. Here are more medical reasons your sex drive could be low.
Your child’s grades are slipping
“If a kid was an all-A student, did well in school, and is suddenly struggling, that may well be because of Lyme,” Barenbaum says. That’s because children with Lyme could have cognitive problems that make it hard to look at the blackboard, listen to the teacher, and write notes at the same time—multitasking skills most kids can handle, she says. Memory loss might also make it hard for them to remember the notes they’ve studied or what a teacher said, Leventhal says.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Signs and Symptoms of Untreated Lyme Disease”
- Kenneth Liegner, MD, internist in Pawling, New York, and author of In the Crucible of Chronic Lyme Disease: Collected Writings & Associated Materials
- Judith G. Leventhal, PhD, a psychologist licensed in the state of New York
- Sandy Barenbaum, LCSW, BCD, co-author of When Your Child Has Lyme Disease: A Parent’s Survival Guide and psychotherapist
- Pat Smith, president of Lyme Disease Association
- Daniel Cameron, MD, MPH, a Lyme disease expert in Mt. Kisco, New York