It’s tick season again, and for those living in areas known for harboring large numbers of these little suckers, the risk of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses becomes part of daily life. Despite best efforts to find and remove them, they are able to find their way into our homes on dogs, cats, rodents, and in places on our bodies we may have missed. The consequences of missing one of these parasites during routine tick checks can be devastating. The most common, of course, is Lyme disease.
What Lyme Disease Looks Like
Arthritis pain, fatigue, nerve damage and heart complications are a few of the more debilitating results of Lyme disease, especially if it is not caught early and treated. In fact, symptoms can show up months or even years after the initial tick bite. Lyme carditis, although rare, is probably the most severe. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s informational site for Lyme, even though it only occurs in 1% of confirmed cases, it can ultimately result in sudden cardiac death if it goes unrecognized and untreated.
Symptoms of Lyme Carditis
In a nutshell, Lyme carditis is an infection of the heart’s tissues, caused by the same bacterium which causes Lyme, Borrelia burgdorferi. It invades the tissues of the heart and affects the heart’s electrical system, resulting in what’s known as a first-, second- or third-degree “heart block,” where the heart does not beat as effectively as it should. A second- or third-degree heart block is the most life-threatening and usually requires hospitalization.
Symptoms of Lyme carditis are similar to a typical heart attack and include:
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
In addition to the symptoms of the carditis, a patient could also have other symptoms of Lyme such as:
- Muscle aches
- “Bull’s-eye” rash. In most cases where it reaches the carditis stage, however, only 42% reported the rash.
Treatment of Lyme Carditis
The treatment for all symptoms of Lyme disease is antibiotics. For those who have carditis, the treatment may involve intravenous drugs such as ceftriaxone or penicillin. In some cases, the impact to the heart may be severe enough to merit a temporary pacemaker while the antibiotics are being administered. The CDC notes the best chance for complete recovery is to catch the infection early and treat it accordingly.
If you think you may have contracted Lyme disease, you can check your symptoms here, but nothing is as effective as a trip to your doctor’s office to discuss all the factors involved in your diagnosis.
If you live in tick-infested areas, here are some tips to help keep yourself and your family healthy:
- Be sure to do thorough tick checks every day, on you and your pets.
- Wash clothes worn outside immediately and dry in a hot dryer for at least an hour to kill any ticks remaining on the clothes.
- If you do remove a tick and you aren’t sure what kind it is, put it into a clear plastic bag and put it into the freezer to take to the doctor with you should you begin to feel any Lyme symptoms.
- If you are feeling ill and go to the doctor, let your physician know if you have removed an imbedded tick in the past year.