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Lyme disease symptoms that are misdiagnosed as the flu

Meagan Morris is an entertainment and lifestyle journalist living in New York City. In addition to SheKnows, Morris contributes to many publications including The New York Times, Yahoo! News, PopEater, NBC New York and Spinner. Follow he...

What symptoms to look for if you think you have Lyme disease

Almost 30,000 people contract Lyme disease each year when the temperatures rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

You spend more time outside during the spring and summer wearing less clothing — and it gives the disease-carrying ticks direct access to your skin.

And while you might pick that tick on your skin, you might not recognize the early signs of Lyme disease until days or weeks later. The reason: Many symptoms of the disease mimic those of the flu, according to Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a board-certified infectious disease specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

"Often, in its acute stage, Lyme disease can present with general symptoms that are consistent with a viral illness, and it can be mistaken for influenza," Dr. Adalja tells SheKnows. "This occurs because fever, chills, aches and pains are symptoms that are not specific for any particular disease."

So your doctor might send you on your way with tips on fighting the flu while your body tries to fight off the tick-borne virus. Left untreated, Dr. Adalja says, the illness can spread to affect vital organs in your body.

"About 10 percent of cases of untreated Lyme disease will be self-limited and not have further issues without treatment," he says. "If someone with Lyme disease is missed, the disease could progress and spread to the joints, the heart, the central nervous system or other organs."

The CDC reports that approximately 60 percent of untreated Lyme disease cases result in arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling. A smaller number develop Bell's palsy, a loss of muscle tone on either one or both sides of the face, leading to facial drooping.

If you're worried your symptoms point to more than the flu, Dr. Adalja recommends insisting that your doctor perform a Lyme disease test.

"Physicians have easy access to testing, so the number of patients that are misdiagnosed should be small, and patients can always advocate that their physician perform testing if they're in doubt," he says.

Luckily a course of antibiotics — and proper rest — is all it takes to recover from Lyme disease, and when treated, it generally leaves no long-term impact on your health.

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