If This Happens To Your Joints, It Could Be A Sign Of Lyme Disease

The upper midwest and northeast regions of the United States offer many outdoor activities to enjoy. If you live in these areas, you may know all about ticks and the risk of contracting Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is not uncommon. It is caused by the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, from black-legged deer ticks that are in their nymph or adult stages. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 476,000 Americans are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease each year. However, this may be an overestimate due to presumptive diagnoses. Because Lyme disease symptoms are often flu-like, recurring, and can vary widely from person to person, the disease is notoriously easy to misdiagnose and generally under-researched (per Healthline).

Aside from the bulls-eye rash, which is the most telling sign of Lyme disease, there are many other possible symptoms. One of the more serious ones is joint pain and inflammation.

How Lyme disease can affect the joints

As bacteria from the bite move to the joints, they can become infected and inflamed. Larger joints, like the knees and hips, are more likely to be affected, and the pain can be severe. This condition is called Lyme arthritis and affects around 60 percent of patients who do not receive antibiotic treatment in the early stages of the disease (via Science Daily). 

Dr. Aristides Cruz, chief orthopaedic resident at Yale-New Haven Hospital, explains to Science Daily, "Lyme arthritis occurs when the spirochete, the bacteria that causes the disease, invades the joints and causes inflammation to the tissue that lines the joints. If left untreated, this inflammatory response can cause the cartilage within the joints to become damaged."

Since joint inflammation is a late-onset symptom and is often mistaken for a different form of arthritis, getting an accurate diagnosis early can help prevent more serious, long-term problems. Dr. Cruz explains, "Lyme arthritis has an excellent prognosis with appropriate treatment... The key is to diagnose Lyme disease early to avoid development of arthritis, and to differentiate between Lyme arthritis and other types of arthritis in symptomatic patients."