FROM EXTREME FATIGUE TO SWOLLEN FEET, THESE ARE THE DIVERSE SYMPTOMS OF THE COMPLEX ILLNESS.
When people think about Lyme disease, what immediately comes to mind is the so-called bullseye rash that’s most often associated with the tick-borne illness. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this erythema migrans rash only occurs in an estimated 70 to 80 percent of Lyme patients, which means that as many as 30 percent of those with the disease must rely on other symptoms in order to get a proper diagnosis. But unlike other conditions that have telltale signs and symptoms, Lyme disease is all over the map when it comes to how it manifests, making it especially difficult to diagnose.
“It is quite a complicated infection. There are a lot of non-specific systems—and that’s part of the problem,” explains Kenneth Liegner, MD, a New York-based board-certified internist who’s been involved with Lyme disease research since 1988. “Anybody who thinks it’s all cut and dry… that’s definitely not true.”
So, what can you do to make sure that you aren’t infected? Familiarize yourself with these surprising—though not uncommon—Lyme disease symptoms you can’t afford to overlook.
One reason why doctors have so much difficulty diagnosing individuals with Lyme disease is because of how often the illness manifests as a sore throat. A 2011 study about the similarities between Lyme and other summer illnesses published in the journal Orthopedic Reviews notes that “respiratory symptoms such as sore throat may occur in non-viral summer infections such as Lyme disease.”
Does it feel like your head is about to explode every time you chew? Well, this too could be a sign that you have Lyme disease. The Lyme Disease Association in New Jersey notes that TMJ—short for temporomandibular joint dysfunction—is one of the many ways that this tick-borne illness can present itself in patients.
Whether you’ve just contracted Lyme disease or have unknowingly had it months, odds are that you’re having trouble sleeping. According to, approximately 41 percent of people with early-stage Lyme disease have sleep issues, while 66 percent of chronic Lyme patients do.
It’s normal to feel fatigued after a long day at work. What’s not normal is getting nine hours of uninterrupted sleep only to wake up and feel like someone kept you up all night blasting music. If you find that no amount of sleep is doing the trick for you, Tufts University School of Medicine professor Linden Hu, MD, notes that this could be a sign of Lyme disease—one that could potentially linger for months after being treated.
If you’re worried that you might have contracted Lyme disease, then make sure to monitor the frequency of your headaches. According to the CDC, one of the early signs of Lyme disease that tends to occur within the first 30 days of a tick bite is head pain.
And one 2003 study published in the journal Pediatrics detailed two cases of Lyme disease in which patients presented with headaches. The researchers concluded that “it is important for practitioners to consider Lyme disease when patients present with persistent headache,” particularly in areas where the disease is common.
You shouldn’t assume that you have regular age-related arthritis just because you’re in your 50s or 60s. Rather, the CDC notes that joint pain is one of the more surprising symptoms of late-stage Lyme disease. According to one 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, as many as 60 percent of untreated patients will experience so-called Lyme arthritis.