How Do I Know If I Have Tapeworms

How Do I Know If I Have Tapeworms

How Do I Know If I Have Tapeworms?

If you have tapeworms, you may not have any symptoms. You may also experience symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea, abdominal pain, hunger or loss of appetite, fatigue and weakness, weight loss, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and tapeworm segments visible in your bowel movements.

If you get tapeworms, you can have various symptoms. The severity depends on whether you consumed the tapeworms themselves or just the eggs.

There are medications to treat tapeworms effectively. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of tapeworms.

Tapeworms are intestinal parasites. The flat, segmented worms live in humans and animals. They can live for decades inside a host. The adult tapeworms mainly live in the intestines but tapeworm larvae can travel to other parts of the body.

The most common way people get tapeworms is by eating raw or undercooked meat from an affected animal. You can reduce your risk of tapeworm infections by cooking meat to an appropriate temperature and washing your hands well before eating.

Symptoms of tapeworms

Tapeworms go through three life stages: eggs, larva, and adult tapeworms. People get tapeworms by ingesting the eggs or larva without realizing it.

If you consume meat with tapeworm larvae, the larvae stay in your body, attach to your intestinal wall, and continue to grow. They become adult tapeworms, which are long, segmented, and have a pointed head. The head remains attached to your intestine.

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This type of tapeworm infection is called taeniasis or intestinal infection.

As the tapeworm grows, segments called proglottids fill with eggs and then break off. They leave your body when you pass bowel movements.

Tapeworms can live for up to 30 years and grow as large as 80 feet, though they are usually much smaller.

If you have taeniasis, you may not have any symptoms. You may also experience symptoms such as:

  1. Nausea or diarrhea
  2. Abdominal pain
  3. Hunger or loss of appetite
  4. Fatigue and weakness
  5. Weight loss
  6. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  7. Tapeworm segments visible in your bowel movements

If you ingest tapeworm eggs, they grow into larvae inside your body. The larvae can leave the intestine and create larval cysts in other organs. This is called cysticercosis.

The cysts from cysticercosis can develop in your muscles, eyes, spinal cord, or brain. This can cause symptoms such as:

  1. Lumps under the skin
  2. Seizures and headaches
  3. Confusion and balance problems
  4. Brain swelling
  5. Stroke or death

Types of tapeworms

There are three main types of tapeworms that affect humans: Taenia saginata (beef tapeworm), Taenia solium (pork tapeworm), and Taenia asiatica (Asian tapeworm).

The beef tapeworm can contaminate meat from cows. The pork and Asian varieties contaminate meat from pigs.

Tapeworms exist anywhere there are livestock. However, tapeworm infections are more common in parts of the world such as Latin America, China, sub-Saharan Africa, or Southeast Asia. Any area with limited sanitation systems can also be a high-risk spot for tapeworms.

Causes of tapeworms

Humans and animals pass tapeworm eggs and larvae in their feces. If feces get into the vegetation or water an animal consumes, the animal will get the parasites from that. Humans can then get tapeworms from eating the meat of the animal.

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People who work around livestock are at risk of getting tapeworm, especially through their exposure to animal feces. Handling infected feces without thorough handwashing can lead to accidental ingestion of tapeworms.

In rare cases, people can get tapeworms from human feces, which is more common in places without adequate plumbing and sewage disposal.

When to see a doctor for tapeworms

If you suspect a tapeworm infection, you should call your doctor. Your doctor will help you decide if you need immediate treatment or not.

Diagnosis and tests for tapeworms

Your doctor will first ask about your symptoms, recent travel to areas where tapeworms are common, and exposure to pigs or cows. They might also inquire about consuming contaminated meat.

To check for tapeworms in your intestine, your doctor will request stool samples to examine under a microscope for tapeworm segments and eggs.

If your doctor suspects an invasive tapeworm infection, they may order blood tests to check for infection. They may also recommend an MRI or CT scan to check for larvae in your brain.

How do you get rid of tapeworms?

Parasitic worm infections, including tapeworms, are relatively common around the world. Fortunately, it is possible to eliminate tapeworms if you discover an infection.

Tapeworms are flatworms that can inhabit your digestive system. They enter your intestines and attach their head to the inner wall, feeding on the food you digest.

Treatments for a tapeworm infection

After confirming the presence of tapeworms, your doctor may prescribe medications such as:

  • Praziquantel
  • Albendazole
  • Niclosamide (note: not approved for human use in the U.S.)

In rare cases, tapeworms can lead to serious complications, including blockage in your intestines or smaller ducts in your GI tract, such as the bile or pancreatic ducts.

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Preventing a tapeworm infection

Here are some ways to protect yourself from or reduce the risk of a tapeworm infection:

  • Wash your hands with soap and hot water before and after using the bathroom
  • Avoid eating raw meat, including fish
  • Thoroughly cook all meat, including fish
  • Freeze raw meat before cooking to kill any tapeworm eggs
  • Avoid eating raw vegetables
  • Wash your hands with soap and hot water before preparing or eating

Complications and side effects of tapeworm treatments

Some medications used to eliminate tapeworms may cause harmful side effects.

Praziquantel may cause vomiting, allergic reactions, headaches, dizziness, rash, stomach discomfort, or a fever.

If you experience symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, such as hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat, seek emergency medical assistance.

Albendazole may cause liver problems, stomach pain, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. It is not recommended for pregnant women or children under 6 months of age.

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References:

– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Cysticercosis."

– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Cysticercosis Diagnosis."

– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Taeniasis."

– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Taeniasis Diagnosis."

– Mayo Clinic: "Tapeworm Infection."

– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Parasites – Taeniasis."

– Healthy Children: "Tapeworms."

– HSE: "Diphyllobothrium latum."

– Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Tapeworm."

– Kids Health: "Tapeworm."

– Mayo Clinic: "Praziquantel (Oral Route)."

– NPS MEDICINEWISE: "Albendazole (Zentel) listing extended to treat hookworm and strongyloidiasis."

– World Health Organization: "What you need to know about tapeworm infections."

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