If you notice these first symptoms of Lyme disease, call your doctor as soon as possible. "We know that early treatment gives you the best opportunity to get rid of Lyme disease," says Darin Ingels, a naturopathic doctor and author of Lyme solution.
A Lyme diagnosis must be a clinical diagnosis, that is, based on your medical history, symptoms and tick exposure. So, if you have enough symptoms and live in an area with Lyme disease, your doctor may choose to prescribe a treatment protocol, even without a laboratory test.
Getting a diagnosis can be complicated, though. Main reason: Many doctors are not very familiar with Lyme disease and rely too much on blood tests (an ELISA test, then, if it's positive, a Western blot test) to diagnose patients – and these tests are far from accurate. They measure the patient's antibody response to the infection, not the infection itself, and they are more likely to be accurate once you are sick for a few weeks. So, if you are tested too early, you will have more risk of getting a false negative (although you may have one at any time).
If you're lucky enough to get a quick diagnosis, most doctors will recommend the CDC's recommended antibiotic treatment, which lasts 21 days – and for many people it takes care of everything. But sometimes, the symptoms persist.
"I would say that the chances of recidivism would be 20 to 25 percent," says Richard Firshein, an integrative physician based in New York. That's why some doctors, usually those who specialize in Lyme Disease, call Literate Physicians (LLMD), choose to follow the treatment guidelines set by the International Lyme Society and Associated Diseases (ILADS), which recommends antibiotic treatment for four to six weeks and additional treatment if symptoms reappear.
So, if you firmly believe that you have contracted Lyme disease recently, but your doctor decides not to treat you based on the results of your test, it is advisable to seek a second opinion from a doctor specializing in the disease. Lyme. The LymeDisease.org Doctors Referral Tool is a useful resource for finding a qualified doc in your area.
It is important to note, however, that not all specialists in Lyme disease are created equal and that they can adopt very different treatment approaches (some doctors strictly use antibiotics, some use a mixture of antibiotics and medicinal herbs and some use only natural herbal protocols). It is therefore important to choose the one whose approach corresponds to your values.