Lyme disease

Information on Lyme disease, including the symptoms and treatments

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks. It’s also known as Lyme borreliosis.

Ticks are tiny spider-like creatures found in woodland and moorland areas, grassy places, parks and gardens. They feed on the blood of birds and mammals, including humans.

Lyme disease is usually easier to treat the earlier it’s diagnosed.

More about tick bites

How you get Lyme disease

If a tick bites an animal carrying the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, the tick can become infected. The tick can then transfer the bacteria to a human by biting them.

Ticks don’t jump or fly. They climb on to your clothes or skin if you brush against something they’re on. They then bite into the skin and start to feed on your blood.

You’re more likely to become infected the longer the tick is attached to your skin. This means that removing them quickly is important. Ticks are very small and their bites are not painful, so you may not realise you have one attached to your skin.

Where are ticks found?

Ticks are found throughout the UK and in other parts of Europe and North America. There are a high number of ticks in the Scottish Highlands.

They can be found in any areas with deep or overgrown plants where they have access to animals to feed on.

They’re common in woodland and moorland areas, but can also be found in gardens or parks.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

Many people with early symptoms of Lyme disease develop a circular rash around the tick bite. The rash:

  • usually develops around 3 to 30 days after you have been bitten
  • may look like a bull’s-eye on a dart board
  • will be red
  • may feel slightly raised at the edges
  • may get bigger over several days or weeks
  • is usually around 15 cm (6 inches) across, but it can be smaller or much larger

Some people may develop several rashes in different parts of their body.

Around 1 in 3 people with Lyme disease will not develop a rash.

Other symptoms of Lyme disease

Some people with Lyme disease have flu-like symptoms in the early stages, like:

  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • muscle pain
  • joint pain
  • headaches
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • chills
  • neck stiffness

When to get help

Speak to a GP practice if:

You’ve been bitten by a tick and you:

  • develop a rash
  • have flu-like symptoms

Remember to tell them you’ve been bitten by a tick.

Diagnosing Lyme disease

Diagnosing Lyme disease is often difficult. Many of the symptoms are similar to other conditions.

There are 2 kinds of blood test used to diagnose Lyme disease. The tests are not always accurate in the early stages of Lyme disease. You may need to be tested more than once if you still have symptoms after a negative result.

Treatment for Lyme disease

If you have symptoms of Lyme disease, you’ll usually be given antibiotics.

If you’re prescribed antibiotics, it’s important to finish the course even if you’re feeling better. This will help to ensure all the bacteria are killed.

If your symptoms are particularly severe, you may need antibiotic injections (intravenous antibiotics).

Some of the antibiotics used to treat Lyme disease can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. You should avoid prolonged exposure to the sun. You should also not use sunbeds until after you have finished the treatment.

In some cases, symptoms can persist after antibiotic treatment has finished. This is called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. There’s currently no agreement on the best treatment for this because the underlying cause is not yet clear.

Be wary of internet sites offering alternative diagnostic tests and treatments. These may not be supported by scientific evidence.

What can happen if Lyme disease is not treated

More serious symptoms may develop if Lyme disease is not treated, or it’s not treated early. These symptoms can include:

  • pain and swelling in the joints
  • nerve problems – like numbness or pain in your limbs
  • memory problems
  • difficulty concentrating
  • heart problems

Some of these problems will get better with treatment. But, they can continue if treatment starts late.

Some people with Lyme disease can develop long-term symptoms. These may be like the symptoms of fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. This is known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.

It’s not clear why this happens but it may be linked to overactivity of your immune system.

How to prevent Lyme disease

There’s currently no vaccine to prevent Lyme disease. The best way to prevent it is to adopt easy habits when you’re in the countryside or near wildlife.


  • try to stick to hard paths
  • wear long trousers in overgrown areas
  • tuck your trousers into your socks
  • wear insect repellent
  • check for ticks on your body after walking or camping

Who is at risk of Lyme disease?

The risk of getting Lyme disease is higher:

  • for people who spend time in woodland or moorland areas
  • from March to October because more people take part in outdoor activities

Usually only a small number of ticks carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Being bitten doesn’t mean you’ll definitely be infected. But, it’s important to be aware of the risk and speak to a GP if you start to feel unwell.