A bull’s-eye rash is the hallmark sign of this tick-borne illness, but if left untreated, other lingering and debilitating symptoms can develop. These famous faces have spoken out about their struggles and successes with this often-invisible illness.
If you happen to encounter the wrong tick, a walk in the woods can turn into a lingering battle with Lyme disease. Early signs and symptoms of Lyme disease, the result of a tick bite, include a bull’s-eye shaped rash and flu-like symptoms that can be very mild and may even go unnoticed. And in at least a quarter of Lyme disease patients, the telltale rash does not develop, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
Most cases can be treated successfully with antibiotics, but if Lyme disease is not detected early, it can cause serious and debilitating symptoms such as nerve pain, severe headaches, arthritis, and cognitive problems. As the NIAID notes, fatigue, pain, and aching joints and muscles can persist in some patients even after treatment, which is known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. The symptoms and complications of Lyme disease — especially when it comes to what has been called “chronic Lyme,” though experts are wary of that term — are complex and not well-defined. But of course people should seek a medical evaluation if they are feeling unwell, and Lyme disease should be investigated if there has been a history of a tick bite.
Lyme disease is often considered an invisible illness. The symptoms and effects of Lyme disease aren’t necessarily noticeable to other people, and it can take time to get an accurate diagnosis. Yet it’s hardly an uncommon condition. An estimated 476,000 Americans contract Lyme disease annually, including a number of famous faces. These 11 celebrities have gone public about their own Lyme-related experiences with pain and disability — and the road to feeling better.
1. Shania Twain
Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images
In her Netflix documentary Not Just a Girl, country music legend Shania Twain opened up about her frightening bout with Lyme disease, which happened while she was touring in the early 2000s and impacted her vocal cords and ability to sing.
“I was horseback riding, and I was bit by a tick. The tick was infected with Lyme disease,” Twain said. “My symptoms were quite scary, because before I was diagnosed, I was on stage very dizzy, I was losing my balance, I was afraid I was going to fall off the stage. I was having these very, very millisecond blackouts, but regularly — every minute or every 30 seconds,” said Twain, according to Today.
In a 2020 interview on the British talk show Loose Women, Twain said it took seven years for doctors to realize that the changes to her voice were due to nerve damage to her vocal cords that was caused by Lyme disease.
“Our voices are such a huge part of our self-expression, and for a vocalist it’s devastating in so many ways,” she shared. “Until I got to the bottom of why I was having a problem with my voice, there wasn’t much I could do about it, and it took a long time. Thankfully I persevered, and I am making records again and putting on concerts.”
2. Bella Hadid
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
Runway model and reality star Bella Hadid (along with her mother, Yolanda, and her brother, Anwar) has also battled Lyme disease. In a speech at the 2016 Global Lyme Alliance, Hadid shared how her passion for horseback riding — along with her resolve — was negatively impacted by her condition.
“It was my dream of my life and what I did every single day, until I just stopped and realized I didn’t have the brain power to ride horses anymore, so that was the end of that,” she explained. “I know what it feels like to not want to get out of bed from bone pains and exhaustion and days on end of not wanting to socialize or be around people because the anxiety and brain fog just isn’t worth it. … After years of this, you begin to get used to living with the sickness, instead of getting cured and moving on with life.”
3. Amy Schumer
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Stand-up comedian and Trainwreck and Life and Beth actress Amy Schumer unsurprisingly took a lighthearted approach to announcing she had Lyme disease on her Instagram account in September 2020. “Anyone get LYME this summer? I got it and I’m on doxycycline,” she wrote. “I have maybe had it for years. Any advice? Can you have a glass of wine or 2 on it?”
She encouraged her followers to comment with their own experiences with the tick-borne disease and said she was managing her own symptoms well. “I want to say that I feel good and am excited to get rid of it.”
4. Alec Baldwin
The 30 Rock and SNL star was bitten by a tick more than 20 years ago, and for five summers after that, he was bedridden with sweats and high fever. Speaking to People about his experience with Lyme disease, Baldwin said, “I really thought this is it, I’m not going to live. I was alone, I wasn’t married at the time, I was divorced from my first wife. I was lying in bed saying, ‘I’m going to die of Lyme disease’ in my bed and ‘I hope someone finds me and I’m not here for too long.’”
After mostly avoiding the topic publicly, he agreed to speak at a fundraising dinner in 2017 for the Bay Area Lyme Foundation. He has since talked about his family’s vigilance in avoiding the tick-borne illness. “I want my kids to grow up riding horses and bikes and enjoying themselves every day and not have to spend every day with us going over them with a magnifying glass to make sure they don’t have any ticks on their body or their dogs, but that is part of the lifestyle,” he said.