Chagas Disease (cont.)

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What are Chagas disease symptoms and signs?

The symptoms of Chagas disease can be quite variable and range from no symptoms at all to severe and distressing symptoms. The first symptoms, when present in the acute phase, may include some of the following:

  • Swelling and/or redness at the skin infection site (termed chagoma)
  • Rash
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Head and body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
  • Liver and/or spleen enlargement
  • Romaña sign (unilateral painless edema [swelling] of tissues around the eye)

Most individuals who get the above acute-phase symptoms have them resolve spontaneously in about three to eight weeks. Occasionally, acute infections show chronic symptoms (listed below) if the patient's immune function is weakened.

Most investigators suggest that the intermediate or indeterminate phase has no symptoms. This stage may last throughout the person's life and the individuals may never know they have Chagas disease, especially if they had mild or no symptoms in the acute phase. However, this stage may only last about 10-20 years in some patients before the chronic symptoms develop in about 10%-30% of those infected. Some researchers compare the chronic phase of Chagas disease to HIV/AIDS. Whereas HIV/AIDS slowly attacks the immune system, Chagas disease slowly attacks the heart and the tissues of the gastrointestinal tract. Other investigators consider such a comparison as unwarranted publicity or hype to spotlight Chagas disease.

Symptoms of chronic Chagas disease vary according to the organs most affected; in most cases, the heart or the gastrointestinal tract (or both) show the most serious symptoms. Chronic Chagas disease symptoms may include the following:

  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Palpitations
  • Fainting (syncope)
  • Cardiomyopathy (chronic disease of the heart muscle)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Emphysema
  • Stroke
  • Sudden death
  • Chronic abdominal pain
  • Chronic constipation
  • Dilated colon
  • Difficulty swallowing

These symptoms are due to organ damage caused by the persistent presence of the parasites within the tissues of these organs. Chronic inflammation develops as the body reacts to the parasites; it affects the nerve cells or neurons in these tissues, causing electrical conduction changes in the heart (arrhythmias) and poor muscle tone in the intestines.


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