This infection may have a major "ick" factor, but it usually only causes a mild intestinal illness.
Tapeworm infection is caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with tapeworm eggs or larvae. If you ingest certain tapeworm eggs, they can migrate outside your intestines and form larval cysts in body tissues and organs (invasive infection). If you ingest tapeworm larvae, however, they develop into adult tapeworms in your intestines (intestinal infection).
An adult tapeworm consists of a head, neck and chain of segments called proglottids. When you have an intestinal tapeworm infection, the tapeworm head adheres to the intestinal wall, and the proglottids grow and produce eggs. Adult tapeworms can live for up to 30 years in a host.
Intestinal tapeworm infections are usually mild, with only one or two adult tapeworms. But invasive larval infections can cause serious complications.
Many people with intestinal tapeworm infection don't have symptoms. If you do have problems from the infection, your symptoms will depend on the type of tapeworm you have and its location. Invasive tapeworm infection symptoms vary depending on where the larvae have migrated.
Signs and symptoms of intestinal infection include:
If tapeworm larvae have migrated out of your intestines and formed cysts in other tissues, they can eventually cause organ and tissue damage, resulting in:
If you experience any of the signs or symptoms of tapeworm infection, seek medical attention.
A tapeworm infection starts after ingestion of tapeworm eggs or larvae.
Ingestion of eggs.. If you eat food or drink water contaminated with feces from a person or animal with tapeworm, you ingest microscopic tapeworm eggs. For example, a dog infected with a tapeworm will pass tapeworm eggs in its feces, which get into the soil.
If this same soil comes in contact with a food or water source, it becomes contaminated. You can then be infected when you eat or drink something from the contaminated source.
Once inside your intestines, the eggs develop into larvae. At this stage, the larvae become mobile. If they migrate out of your intestines, they form a cyst in the liver or other tissues.
Ingestion of larvae cysts in meat or muscle tissue. When an animal has a tapeworm infection, it has tapeworm larvae in its muscle tissue. If you eat raw or undercooked meat from an infected animal, you ingest the larvae, which then develop into adult tapeworms in your intestines.
Adult tapeworms can measure more than 80 feet (25 meters) long and can survive as long as 30 years in a host. Some tapeworms attach themselves to the walls of the intestines, where they cause irritation or mild inflammation, while others may pass through to your stool and exit your body.
Factors that may put you at greater risk of tapeworm infection include:
Intestinal tapeworm infections usually don't cause complications. If complications do occur, they may include:
Organ function disruption. When larvae migrate to the liver, lungs or other organs, they become cysts. Over time, these cysts grow, sometimes large enough to crowd the functioning parts of the organ or reduce its blood supply. Tapeworm cysts sometimes rupture, releasing more larvae, which can move to other organs and form additional cysts.
A ruptured or leaking cyst can cause an allergy-like reaction, with itching, hives, swelling and difficulty breathing. Surgery or organ transplantation may be needed in severe cases.
To prevent tapeworm infection:
To diagnose a tapeworm infection, your doctor may rely on one of the following:
Stool sample analysis. For an intestinal tapeworm infection, your doctor may check your stool or send samples to a laboratory for testing. A laboratory uses microscopic identification techniques to check for eggs or tapeworm segments in your feces.
Because the eggs and segments are passed irregularly, the lab may need to collect two to three samples over a period of time to detect the parasite. Eggs are sometimes present at the anus, so your doctor may use a piece of transparent adhesive tape pressed to the anus to collect eggs for microscopic identification.
Some people with tapeworm infections never need treatment, for the tapeworm exits the body on its own. Others don't realize they have it because they have no symptoms. However, if you're diagnosed with intestinal tapeworm infection, medication will likely be prescribed to get rid of it.
The most common treatment for tapeworm infection involves oral medications that are toxic to the adult tapeworm, including:
Which medication your doctor prescribes depends on the species of tapeworm involved and the site of the infection. These drugs target the adult tapeworm, not the eggs, so it's important to avoid reinfecting yourself. Always wash your hands after using the toilet and before eating.
To be certain that your tapeworm infection has cleared, your doctor will probably have your stool samples checked at certain intervals after you've finished taking your medication. Successful treatment — meaning that your stool is free of tapeworm eggs, larvae or proglottids — is most likely if you receive appropriate treatment for the type of tapeworm causing your infection.
Treating an invasive infection depends on the location and effects of the infection.
Surgery. Whether cysts can be removed surgically depends on their location and symptoms. Cysts that develop in the liver, lungs and eyes are typically removed, since they can eventually threaten organ function.
Your doctor might recommend a drainage tube as an alternative to surgery. The tube allows aggressive rinsing (irrigation) of the area with anti-parasitic solutions.
For a tapeworm infection, you might first see your primary physician. However, in some cases, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases or a doctor who specializes in disorders of the gastrointestinal tract (gastroenterologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what you can expect from your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. For tapeworm infection, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
Your doctor may ask that you bring a stool sample to your appointment for testing. Your doctor may also ask you questions about your condition, such as:
While you're waiting to see your doctor, try to stay well-hydrated.
March 16th, 2021