What causes tapeworm infections?
Tapeworms are the flatworms that live in the human digestive tract. They are mostly harmless but can often cause infections. Some people don't realize they have a tapeworm infection because it shows few symptoms. But others may experience abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and extreme weight loss.
Almost all types of tapeworm infections are treatable.
Tapeworms can become infectious in rare cases. Some factors that may lead to causing tapeworm infections include:
- Poor hygiene. Very few baths or infrequent washing can increase the transfer of contaminated (infectious) objects to your mouth.
- Exposure to stool. When human or animal stool isn't disposed of properly, it is an open risk for causing tapeworm infection.
- Raw or undercooked meats. Undercooked meat containing tapeworm eggs and larvae can lead to infection when entering the human body.
How do I know if I have tapeworms?
Tapeworm infections are usually of two types, intestinal and invasive. When you ingest tapeworm larvae, and they develop into adult tapeworms in your intestines, the condition is known as intestinal infection.
Sometimes, when you ingest tapeworm eggs, they move outside your intestines and produce larval cysts in your tissues and organs. This condition is called an invasive infection.
Most people with tapeworm infections don't show any visible symptoms. Still, some people may show varying symptoms depending on the location of the tapeworms or the larvae.
If you have an intestinal tapeworm infection, you may generally notice these signs and symptoms in your body:
- Appetite changes
- Weight loss
- Inadequate nutrient absorption
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive cravings for salt
If you have an invasive tapeworm infection, you may observe the following signs and symptoms:
Can you pass a tapeworm in your stool?
You can identify the tapeworm infection in your stool. Some tapeworms usually attach themselves to the walls of your intestine and cause irritation. These worms can survive for as long as 30 years in their host, while others may exit the host's body in segments through stool.
How do you test to see if you have a tapeworm?
If you suspect any of the signs and symptoms of tapeworm infection, you need to visit a professional doctor for the diagnosis. The doctor may opt for any of the following tests to confirm the presence of infectious tapeworm in your body:
Stool sample analysis
The preferred tapeworm infection treatment is stool sample analysis. The doctor may send your stool samples to a laboratory for testing. There, your samples will be examined under a microscope to detect tapeworm eggs or segments.
The eggs and segments usually pass out of your body randomly. So, the lab may require two or more samples of your stool to confirm the parasite. In most cases, tapeworm eggs are attached to your anus, so the doctor may use adhesive tape and press it to your anus for collection.
If the doctor suspects invasive tapeworm infection, they may also examine your blood to see if your body produced any antibodies against the infection or not. If the doctor finds antibodies, this means you have tapeworm infection.
How can I deworm myself?
Frequent bathing and washing can reduce your chances of coming in contact with tapeworms. The treatment methods for intestinal tapeworm infection and invasive tapeworm infections may vary.
Intestinal infections treatment
Medications that kill the adult tapeworm are:
The doctor will prescribe you any of the above-listed medications according to the location of the tapeworm. You need to avoid all factors that may trigger reinfection as these medications only target the adult tapeworm, not their eggs.
After the treatment, the doctor may take your stool samples to confirm the clearance of the infection.
Invasive infections treatment
If your doctor diagnoses invasive tapeworm infection, they may opt for a treatment method depending on your symptoms and the worm's location.
- Anthelmintic drugs. Anthelmintic drugs, like Albendazole (Albenza), can help your body shrink a significant amount of tapeworm cysts. The doctor may check the improvement of the cysts periodically through multiple imaging tests.
- Corticosteroid medication. Corticosteroid medications, like prednisone or dexamethasone, can help reduce tissue swelling or inflammation caused due to dying tapeworm cysts.
- Surgery. The doctor may go for surgery to remove the cysts from your liver, lungs, and eyes. Some doctors also suggest a drainage tube as an alternative to surgery. The tube rinses the affected area with antiparasitic solutions to eliminate the infestation.
If you experience any of the symptoms of tapeworm infection, immediately seek medical treatment.
Mayo Clinic: "Tapeworm infection."
MSD Manual: "Tapeworm Infection."
Nemour's Kid Health: "Tapeworm."
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