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Guide to Lyme Disease

Part 3 of 4 - How Is Lyme Disease Treated?

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Updated June 26, 2014

Treatment of Lyme disease

Using antibiotics appropriately, your health care provider can effectively treat your Lyme disease. In general, the sooner you begin treatment following infection, the quicker and more complete your recovery.

  • Antibiotics such as Doxycycline, cefuroxime axetil, or amoxicillin, taken orally for a few weeks, can speed the healing of the EM rash and usually prevent subsequent symptoms such as arthritis or neurologic problems.
  • Doxycycline also will effectively treat most other tickborne diseases.

Because doxycycline can stain the permanent teeth developing in young children or unborn babies, if Lyme disease occurs in children younger than 9 years, or in pregnant or breast-feeding women, they usually are treated with:

  • amoxicillin
  • cefuroxime axetil
  • penicillin

Lyme Arthritis

If you have Lyme arthritis, your health care provider may treat you with oral antibiotics. If your arthritis is severe, you may be given ceftriaxone or penicillin intravenously (through a vein). To ease discomfort and to further healing, your health care provider might also:

  • prescribe medications such as NSAIDs (non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • perform a joint aspiration (drawing fluid from your affected joints)
  • surgically remove the inflamed lining of the affected joints

In most people, Lyme arthritis will go away within a few weeks or months following antibiotic treatment. In some, however, it can take years to disappear completely. Some people with Lyme disease who are untreated for several years may be cured of their arthritis with the proper antibiotic treatment. If the disease has persisted long enough, however, it may permanently damage the structure of the joints.

Neurologic Problems

If you have neurologic symptoms, your health care provider will probably treat you with the antibiotic ceftriaxone given intravenously once a day for a month or less. Most people recover completely.

Heart Problems

Health care providers prefer to treat people with Lyme disease who have heart symptoms with antibiotics such as ceftriaxone or penicillin given intravenously for about 2 weeks. People with Lyme disease rarely have long-term heart damage.

Lyme Disease Research

Following treatment for Lyme disease, you might still have muscle achiness, neurologic symptoms such as problems with memory and concentration, and fatigue.

  • NIH-sponsored researchers are conducting studies to determine the cause of these symptoms and how to best treat them.

Studies suggest that people who suffer from chronic Lyme disease may be genetically predisposed to develop an autoimmune response that contributes to their symptoms.

  • Researchers are now examining the significance of this finding in great detail.

Researchers are also conducting studies to find out the best length of time to give antibiotics for the various signs and symptoms of Lyme disease.

Lyme Disease Can Reoccur

Unfortunately, a bout with Lyme disease is no guarantee that the illness will not return. The disease can strike more than once if you are reinfected with Lyme disease bacteria.

Further Research

NIH conducts and supports biomedical research aimed at meeting the challenges of Lyme disease. Scientists are gaining a better understanding of the human immune response that leads to Lyme disease.

  • For example, they are uncovering the mechanisms responsible for treatment-resistant Lyme arthritis. Improved understanding of the human immune response may lead to better diagnostic and prognostic tools.
  • For example, the B. burgdorferi immune complex assay, a test under development, indicates active Lyme disease infection earlier than antibody tests now in use. Because Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose and sometimes does not respond to treatment, researchers are trying to create a vaccine that will protect people from getting infected. Vaccines work in part by prompting the body to make antibodies. These custom-shaped molecules lock onto specific proteins made by a virus or bacterium. Often, those proteins lodge in the microbe’s outer coat. Once antibodies attach to an invading microbe, other immune defenses are called upon to destroy it.

The Key to Progress

Although Lyme disease poses many challenges, they are challenges the medical research community is well equipped to meet. New information on Lyme disease is accumulating at a rapid pace, thanks to the scientific research being conducted around the world.

Go on to Part 4 --- How Can Lyme Disease Be Prevented? --->

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