Diagnosis

If you live where Lyme disease is common, the rash might be enough for a diagnosis.

A diagnosis usually depends on the following:

  • A review of all signs and symptoms.
  • A history of known or possible exposure to ticks.
  • Blood tests to find disease-fighting antibodies to the bacteria.

Treatment

Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease. In most cases, recovery will be quicker and more complete the sooner treatment begins.

Antibiotic pills

The standard treatment for Lyme disease is an antibiotic taken as a pill. The treatment usually lasts 10 to 14 days. Treatment may be longer depending on your symptoms. It's important to take all pills as directed even if you're feeling better.

IV antibiotic

Your care provider may prescribe an antibiotic given directly into a vein, also called an intravenous (IV) antibiotic. An IV antibiotic may be used for more-serious disease, especially if you have symptoms of:

  • Long-lasting arthritis.
  • Disease affecting the nervous system.
  • Disease affecting the heart.

Preventive use of antibiotics

Your provider may prescribe an antibiotic as a preventive measure, also called prophylaxis, only if all three of these conditions happen:

  • The biting tick is known to be a deer tick.
  • You live in or recently visited an area where Lyme disease is common.
  • The tick was attached to the skin for 36 hours or more.

Antibiotics are the only proven treatment for Lyme disease. Other treatments have not been shown to work or haven't been tested.

Illness after Lyme disease

You may have heard the term "chronic Lyme disease." Some people use the term to refer to long-term symptoms they think may be linked to an earlier case of Lyme disease. But that term isn't well-defined. Research has found that these symptoms aren't related to ongoing illness caused by borrelia bacteria. Research also shows that continued use of antibiotics doesn't improve these symptoms.

If you have new health concerns or continuing health problems after Lyme disease, talk to your provider. Symptoms may be due to many potential causes. Your provider can help you figure out the cause of your symptoms and find the right treatment for you.

Lifestyle and home remedies

If you find a tick on your body, follow these steps to remove it:

  • Gloves. If you have them, wear medical gloves or similar gloves to protect your hands.
  • Tweezers. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grab the tick firmly near its mouth and as close to your skin as possible.
  • Removal. Steadily and slowly pull the tick's body away from your skin without jerking or twisting it. If parts of the mouth remain, remove them with clean tweezers.
  • Disposal. Kill the tick by putting it in alcohol. To avoid exposure to possible bacteria, don't crush the tick. The dead tick can be flushed down a drain or toilet. Or it can be lightly wrapped in tape and thrown in the trash, or placed in a sealed bag and stored in a freezer.
  • Storage. A tick can be evaluated later if you think you have a tick-borne disease. Put the tick in a container, label it with the date and place it in the freezer.
  • Cleanup. After removing the tick, first use soap and water to wash your hands and the site of the tick bite. Then clean the site and your hands with rubbing alcohol.

Don't put petroleum jelly, fingernail polish, rubbing alcohol or a hot match on to the tick.

Mayo Clinic Minute: Ways to avoid ticks

Jeff Olsen: While you're enjoying a hike, ticks are looking for a ride.

Dr. Bobbi Pritt: They get themselves in a position. And they will climb up the nearest object, like this blade of grass here.

Jeff Olsen: It's called questing.

Dr. Bobbi Pritt: It sticks out its legs, and that allows it to grab on to hosts as they walk by.

Jeff Olsen: You can lessen the chances you'll become a host.

Dr. Bobbi Pritt: Using insect repellents is a good idea.

Jeff Olsen: Mayo Clinic parasitic diseases expert Dr. Bobbi Pritt suggests permethrin for your clothing and gear.

Dr. Bobbi Pritt: You can really saturate your gear. Leave them out to dry, and, then, the next day, wear them.

Jeff Olsen: Use permethrin on materials and DEET on skin. Spray the DEET repellent on exposed skin, including your legs and hands. Avoid your face, but be sure to protect your neck. Then, tuck your pants into your socks. And, on your hike, remember to avoid areas where those questing ticks may be perched.

Dr. Bobbi Pritt: That's why you want to stay away from the tall grasses. Stay in the middle.

Jeff Olsen: For the Mayo Clinic News Network, I'm Jeff Olsen.

Preparing for your appointment

You're likely to see your primary care provider or an emergency room doctor, depending your symptoms. You may also see a doctor trained in infectious diseases.

If you kept a removed tick, bring it to the appointment. If you've done recent outdoor activities and may have had a tick bite or may have a tick-borne illness, be ready to answer these questions:

  • If a tick bit you, when did it happen?
  • When do you think you were exposed to ticks?
  • Where have you been while doing outdoor activities?

What to expect from your doctor

Be prepared to answer these additional questions and write down the answers before your appointment.

  • What symptoms have you experienced?
  • When did they begin?
  • Has anything improved the symptoms or worsened them?
  • What medicines, dietary supplements, herbal remedies and vitamins do you take regularly?
  • Have you made any recent changes to medications?
  • Are you allergic to any medications, or do you have any other allergies?
Nov. 18, 2022
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