Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome

Lyme disease is caused by infection with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Although most cases of Lyme disease can be cured with a 2- to 4-week course of oral antibiotics, patients can sometimes have symptoms of pain, fatigue, or difficulty thinking that linger for more than 6 months after they finish treatment. This condition is called Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS).

Why some patients experience PTLDS is not known. Some experts believe that Borrelia burgdorferi can trigger an “auto-immune” response causing symptoms that last well after the infection itself is gone. Auto–immune responses are known to occur following other infections, including campylobacter (Guillain-Barré syndrome), chlamydia (Reiter’s syndrome), and strep throat (rheumatic heart disease). Other experts hypothesize that PTLDS results from a persistent but difficult to detect infection. Finally, some believe that the symptoms of PTLDS are due to other causes unrelated to the patient’s Borrelia burgdorferi infection.

Unfortunately, there is no proven treatment for PTLDS. Although short-term antibiotic treatment is a proven treatment for early Lyme disease, studiesexternal icon funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have found that long-term outcomes are no better for patients who received additional prolonged antibiotic treatment than for patients who received placebo. Long-term antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease has been associated with serious, sometimes deadly complications, as described in the links below.

Patients with PTLDS usually get better over time, but it can take up to many months to feel completely well. If you have been treated for Lyme disease and still feel unwell, see your healthcare provider to discuss additional options for managing your symptoms. If you are considering long-term antibiotic treatment for ongoing symptoms associated with a Lyme disease infection, please talk to your healthcare provider about the possible risks of such treatment.

Need help interpreting scientific findings?