Signs And Symptoms Of Tapeworm Infections In Humans

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Signs And Symptoms Of Tapeworm

Worried a tapeworm infection could be behind your loss of appetite and constant headaches? You may be right! Tapeworms can enter your body when you consume raw or partly uncooked meat and fish or larvae-infected food and drink and wreak havoc on your system. Some warning signs like nausea, abdominal pain, and the presence of moving segments of the worm in your stool should help you spot a tapeworm infection early.

Tapeworm infections are not easy to spot because, for many, the problem remains asymptomatic. Unfortunately, it can actually turn quite dangerous as the worm multiplies in the body over time, even putting you at risk of stroke or death if it wedges itself in the wrong place. Which is why it is important to know the symptoms of tapeworm infection in your body.

How Can You Get Tapeworms?

Tapeworm infections or taeniasis is more likely among those who consume undercooked or raw meat that is infected with tapeworm. As the Centers for Disease Control explain, the parasitic infection is primarily due to three kinds of tapeworms found in pork and beef from infected cattle and pigs. And now, certain fish are part of the list too!

The CDC recently published a report on Japanese broad tapeworm infection in Alaskan wild salmon. The report suggests that tapeworm infection from this variant may actually be heavily underestimated and is now becoming increasingly common as fish is imported from across borders.1 Sushi lovers, for instance, may need to be mindful of consuming only good quality fresh sushi that’s properly prepared.

Places where people live in close quarters or where hygiene is an issue can also increase the risk of spreading this infection.

The only true way of knowing whether or not it is a tapeworm is to carefully watch for any larvae or segments in the stool or around the anus, check for other symptoms, and get tested or checked by a doctor. If you consume raw or partially uncooked meats or eat out often, you could be at risk and should get checked.

Symptoms Of Tapeworm In Adults

Tapeworms usually enter the body as larvae or eggs. As the worm grows it can become as big as 12 feet or 3.5 meters long and occupy much of your intestine. Unfortunately, the tapeworm has multiple segments and each can make eggs, multiplying the spread of the infection. They survive for years, living off your body as a parasite.2 Look out for these telltale signs of tapeworm infection.3

The only true way of knowing whether or not it is a tapeworm is to carefully watch for any larvae or segments in the stool or around the anus, check for other symptoms, and get tested or checked by a doctor. If you consume raw or partially uncooked meats or eat out often, you could be at risk and should get checked.

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Abdominal pain
  • Appetite loss
  • Weight loss
  • Upset stomach
  • Passing of segments of tapeworm in your stool
  • Moving segments in the stool
  • Passing of eggs in the stool/near the anus
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Jaundice
  • Malnutrition

Signs Of Complications From Tapeworm Infections

Tapeworm infections can be potentially dangerous and even life-threatening in some cases. Here are some complications that can arise from having a tapeworm in your body.

Blockages

Sometimes a segment can get wedged in your intestine or other parts of your body. If that happens, because of their size, tapeworms can actually create a blockage. While this is rare, it is something to be careful about.4 Here are some of the blockages they can create.5

  • Blockage in the appendix
  • Blockage of the bile duct
  • Blockage of pancreatic duct

Symptoms: This depends on where the blockage has occurred. For instance, if the intestine is blocked, you may have abdominal pain.

Tapeworm Larvae Infection

If the larvae burrow into your intestinal wall, they can find their way into your bloodstream as newly hatched worms. From here, they can make their way around the rest of your body.

Symptoms: While exact symptoms can vary depending on where in your body the larvae have gone, some typical symptoms are6:

  • Abscess that causes pain in the lungs
  • Coughing due to the abscess
  • Fits
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Allergic reaction to larvae including anaphylaxis, a life-threatening problem which causes shortness of breath, lightheadedness, trouble breathing, rapid heartbeat, wheezing, anxiety, confusion, and loss of consciousness.7

Cysticercosis: Parasites In Your Muscles And Eyes

The larvae of tapeworm can lead to a parasitic tissue infection called cysticercosis. Unlike tapeworm infections that result from consuming raw or undercooked meat, this infection comes from consuming the eggs of the intestinal tapeworm. This may happen if the fecal matter of an infected person contaminates food and water you consume. It could also happen with people living under the same roof as an infected person through shared utensils, clothes, or surfaces that may carry the eggs.8

Symptoms: Remember, this condition may sometimes have no symptoms at all, especially if it is a cyst in the muscles. In some cases, however you may experience9:

  • Tenderness and lumps below the skin – a symptom that you can spot easily
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Swelling in the eyes

Neurocysticercosis: Brain/Spinal Cord Infection

Infection of the brain or spinal cord by cysts, due to ingestion of eggs of intestinal tapeworm, is known as neurocysticercosis.

Symptoms: These symptoms of cysticercosis are a red flag that you may have a tapeworm in the brain10:

  • Adult onset seizures
  • Cysts in the eyes, muscles, brain, spinal cord
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Confusion
  • Stroke
  • Swelling of the brain
  • Excess fluid surrounding the brain

If untreated, it could even prove fatal, so consider this a serious medical condition that needs immediate attention. This can be prevented by maintaining proper hygiene, washing hands well while preparing food if you are infected, and always washing up well before consuming any food or drink.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency And Anemia

If you have an infection with the fish tapeworm, you could end up with a vitamin B12 deficiency. That’s because this tapeworm absorbs the nutrient from your body, leaving you with insufficient amounts for your normal functions. The vitamin is especially important for producing red blood cells, and a shortfall can result in anemia.11

Symptoms: Some symptoms of a B12 deficiency are12:

  • Fatigue
  • General weakness
  • Numbness/tingling in the feet/hands/legs
  • Issues with balance and walking
  • Anemia
  • Yellowed skin
  • Inflammation and swelling of the tongue
  • Trouble with thinking
  • Memory loss

Symptoms Of Tapeworm In Children

Children too may be affected by tapeworm infections and contract the problem just like adults do, through contaminated food or water. Younger kids may also suck their fingers or touch infected food/drink and then use unwashed hands to eat. Any child who eats raw or partially uncooked meat is especially susceptible. The signs of tapeworms to watch out for in children include13:

  • Mild nausea or complaints of feeling sick or like throwing up
  • Diarrhea or loose stools
  • Pain in the abdomen/tummy ache
  • Loss of interest in eating/appetite loss
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition or mineral or vitamin deficiency14

Differentiating Tapeworm Symptoms From Other Problems

Tapeworm infections share a lot of symptoms with so many other minor health problems that you may quite simply overlook the problem. For instance, you might think a child is nauseous or has lost their appetite due to a fever or tummy ache. But you need to consider the possibility that all three are signs of a tapeworm infection.

References   [ + ]

1.Kuchta, Roman, Mikuláš Oros, Jayde Ferguson, and Tomáš Scholz. “Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense Tapeworm Larvae in Salmon from North America.” Emerging Infectious Diseases 23, no. 2 (2017): 351.
2, 4.Tapeworm infection – beef or pork. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
3, 6, 11, 14.Tapeworm infections – Symptoms. National Health Service.
5.Taeniasis FAQs. CDC.
7.Anaphylaxis.National health Service.
8, 9.Cysticercosis. CDC.
10.Cysticercosis – Disease. CDC.
12.Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky, harmful. Harvard Health Publications.
13.Tapeworm.The Nemours Foundation.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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