Can Lyme Disease Lay Dormant For Years?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that arises when one is bitten by an infected tick. The species of ticks that cause Lyme disease belong to the Ixodes family. They are the black-legged tick or the deer tick. After the tick bite, you may experience symptoms hours after, days or weeks later when the bacteria starts spreading through your body. At the entry point, the skin develops a red circular enlarging rash, where the bacterium then enters into the bloodstream. Due to the presence of the bacteria in the blood, one may experience symptoms such as; fever and chills, body aches, headaches, neck stiffness, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue.

Can Lyme Disease Lay Dormant For Years?

Can Lyme Disease Lay Dormant For Years?

Dormancy refers to a situation where something (anything) has temporarily stopped. Lyme disease can lay dormant for years whereby one hardly experiences any symptoms of the illness. As much as that is the case, it does not imply that you are Lyme free. The aftermath of the dormancy phase is not always positive because it causes progressive nervous system complications. The reason as to why Lyme disease can lay dormant for years can be attributed to the bacterium that causes the illness. That is the Borrelia burgdorferi. It is believed that the Lyme causing bacterium, can survive in the nervous system latently.

Understanding Why Lyme Disease Can Lay Dormant For Years

The reason as to why Lyme disease can lay dormant for years is unclear but the attributing cause is the bacterium itself. It is able to survive inside the human body for a very long time in the nervous system without causing any problems. But then, the dormancy of the bacteria does not last forever, as it reaches a time when symptoms reappear. When they do, they are usually more severe and irreversible damage is caused. In patients who experience such an outcome, they are said to have chronic Lyme disease that persists over long periods of time. Also, the bacteria can spread deeper into the body, where antibiotics prescribed cannot reach and kill the bacteria. In this case, the patient then lives with Lyme disease and since antibiotics no longer work effectively for their case, they are given anti-inflammatory medication for the lasting complications of the disease.

Lyme disease can also lay dormant after it has been treated and the bacteria no longer survives the body. In such a situation, one continues to experience the symptoms of Lyme disease as if they are infected, although they are bacteria free. This has been attributed to either residual tissue damage or an auto-immune malfunction. In the advanced stage of Lyme disease, the bacteria can damage nerves leading to complications such as paralysis. Damaged nerves usually take months to heal, and one may continue experiencing Lyme disease symptoms due to the side effect. In the case of an auto-immune malfunction, the cause is due to an overworked immune system, which constantly tries to fight against the bacteria. In the end, the immune system attacks the patient’s healthy cells due to Lyme disease, although the bacteria have already been killed. The good thing is that the symptoms are short-lived and the patient finally recuperates and feels better.

Possible Complications After Dormancy

The possible complications of Lyme disease after dormancy can either be cognitive, neurological, heart-related or joint problems. They include;

  • Impaired memory
  • Facial palsy
  • Neuropathy
  • Heart rhythm irregularities
  • Chronic Lyme arthritis
  • Pain in the spine and joint pain
  • Tingling, numbness, and stiffness of the arms and legs


Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose as it can mask in the wide-range of symptoms it is likely to cause. As a result, one may go for months with the bacteria in the body, which continues to spread deeper and deeper into the body. The Lyme-causing bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, can survive latently for a long time in the nervous system. This leads to dormancy in the disease, which can last for years until something happens to trigger the bacteria to cause symptoms. In addition to that, dormancy in Lyme disease can also be witnessed after the bacteria has been killed. During the life of the disease, when the bacteria was still present, it may have caused residual tissue damage or an auto-immune malfunction. As a result, symptoms of the disease may persist, even though the bacteria are absent. This leads to post-syndrome Lyme disease, also referred to as chronic Lyme disease.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 20, 2018

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