Learn more about the causes, symptoms & treatment options for Lyme disease

A leg with an insect bite on
What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) is a bacterial infection that can be spread to humans by infected ticks (small spider-like creatures that feed off animals and humans and are most commonly found in woodland and moorland areas).

In general, the earlier Lyme disease is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.

A model scratching their arm
What causes Lyme disease?

Humans can get Lyme disease when they’re bitten by infected ticks.

If a tick bites an animal that carries the Lyme disease bacteria, it can become infected. If you brush against something they’re on, such as long grass, ticks can climb onto your clothes or skin and transfer the bacteria when they bite you and feed on your blood.

An arm with an insect bite
How likely is it to get Lyme disease in the UK?

Not all ticks carry the Lyme disease bacteria, but ticks that may cause Lyme disease are found all over the UK. They’re most common in woodland and moorland areas with long grass, and sometimes in gardens and urban parks.

The most high-risk places to be bitten by a tick in the UK include wooded and grassy areas in:

• Southern and northern England

• The Scottish Highlands

Tick season is usually between March and October because more people take part in outdoor activities, but symptoms of a tick bite can take between two and three months to develop.

You’re more likely to become infected if the tick is on your skin for more than 24 hours, so it’s important to know how to spot ticks and to safely remove them as soon as you can.

A model spraying their arm with insect repellent
How to spot & safely remove a tick

Tick bites aren’t painful so you might not notice if one has become attached to your skin and bitten you unless you see it.

They are very small, between 1mm and 1cm in length, and look like tiny spider-like creatures with either six or eight legs.

If you notice a tick on your skin, you can safely remove it in the following way:

1. Use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick-removal tool such as Lifesystems Tick Tweezers

2. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible

3. Slowly pull upwards. Be careful not to squeeze or crush the tick

4. Dispose of the tick after removing it

5. Clean the bite with soap and water or an antiseptic such as Boots Antiseptic Liquid (contains cetylpyridinium chloride, always read the label)

How to avoid tick bites

You can help reduce the chances of being bitten by ticks with the following tips:

• Cover your skin while outside walking, for example by wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and tucking your trousers into your socks

• Wear light-coloured clothing (it can be easier to spot ticks on lighter clothes)

• Use insect repellent spray on your clothes and skin (always read the label)

• Keep to footpaths and stay clear of long grass when you’re out walking

• Check your clothes and skin for ticks after being outside (don’t forget to check children’s head, neck and scalp)

• Check your pets for ticks to make sure they’ve not brought any into your home

What are the signs & symptoms of Lyme disease?

Once you’ve removed a tick, you don’t need to do anything else, but you should see a GP if you become unwell or notice a circular or oval shaped rash around the tick bite, which could be a sign that you have Lyme disease.

A rash can appear between one and four weeks after being bitten by an infected tick, but in some cases can take up to three months to appear. It can last for several weeks.

The rash may look like a bullseye with a darker or lighter area in the centre, and it may spread gradually.

The rash could be flat or sometimes the edges can feel slightly raised. It may look pink, red or purple on white skin and may look like a bruise on brown and black skin.

It’s possible to have flu-like symptoms in the early stages of Lyme disease, including:

• Tiredness and fatigue

Muscle pain or joint pain


• A high temperature (fever) or chills

• A stiff neck

Some people develop longer-term symptoms as a result of Lyme disease, usually if it hasn’t been treated early enough, which we cover in more detail below.

When to see a GP for tick bites & Lyme disease?

You should see a GP if you’ve been bitten by a tick or been in an area, such as a long grass or a forest, where infected ticks may have been and you develop a round or oval-shaped rash and/or flu-like symptoms as listed above.

A GP will ask about your symptoms, and in certain cases, you may need blood tests to help confirm a diagnosis.

How is Lyme disease treated?

Lyme disease is usually treated with a course of antibiotics. The type you are given will depend on your specific symptoms, but you should finish the full course even if you start to feel better.

In more severe cases, you may be referred to hospital where antibiotics can be given through a vein.

Symptoms usually go away after antibiotics, but this can take several months in some cases.

What could be the long-term impact of Lyme disease?

Sometimes, people who are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease may continue to have symptoms such as tiredness, achiness and a loss of energy for a long time. Or some people can develop more severe symptoms months or years after having Lyme disease. This is more likely to happen if treatment was delayed initially.

More severe symptoms could include:

• Swelling and pain in joints

• Nerve problems, for example pain or numbness

• Problems with your heart

• Difficulty with concentration or memory

You should see your GP if your Lyme disease symptoms do not go away after antibiotics, or if they come back at a later point, even years later. A GP can provide further support and advice that’s suitable for you.