Tapeworms are parasites with a wormlike body structure that live in the digestive system of animals and humans. These parasites usually live in pork, beef and fish, and are passed on to humans when these food products are ingested raw or undercooked. Although most humans exhibit little to no symptoms of a tapeworm infestation, there are several signs related to digestive and overall health that can point to a parasitic tapeworm infection.
Most signs of tapeworms in a human will be present in the intestines and digestive system since this is where the tapeworm lives, feeds and produces eggs. Since the digestive system is an ideal place of shelter and food for tapeworms, most tapeworms rarely leave this section of the human body and usually complete their entire life cycle there. However, some tapeworms migrate to other locations of the body. This type of parasitic movement can cause problematic issues within the human host.
Actual signs and symptoms of a tapeworm infection are very similar to a simple upset stomach or indigestion, and can often be misconstrued and ignored, allowing the problem to continue. Two types of tapeworm infections include intestinal and invasive. Intestinal infections mainly affect overall intestinal health and are concentrated in the stomach and abdominal region of the human body. Invasive infections, however, target the entire body and can prove to be fatal if the infection is left untreated.
Signs to look for when dealing with an invasive tapeworm infection include fever, mysterious new lumps or cysts and bacterial infections due to the presence of tapeworms and their eggs or larvae. More serious symptoms of invasive tapeworm infections can also include seizures and other issues that affect the brain. Intestinal infections are far less dangerous to the body, but can produce familiar symptoms like diarrhoea, nausea, cramping or pain located in the stomach or abdominal area and nutrient absorption issues. Unexplained or unintentional weight loss is also a possible sign of a tapeworm infection, and is a common sign to look for when determining the presence of tapeworms.
Most people identify tapeworms during bowel movements. Proglottids, or small sections that comprise the body of a tapeworm, are shed by mature tapeworms and left in faeces to exit the body. Proglottids are visible to the naked eye and are usually seen directly after a bowel movement. Whole, mature tapeworms can also leave the body during bowel movements, and usually look like a string that can be pulled out. Tapeworms can grow up to 30 feet long, making manual extraction quite a lengthy process.
Tapeworm infections can be prevented by properly cooking all meat products including beef, pork and fish, and avoiding raw or undercooked meats like medium well-done or medium cooked. Washing your hands after using the bathroom will also cut down on consuming fecal particles that contain tapeworm eggs. Medications like Biltricide work on current tapeworm infections. However, for invasive tapeworm infections surgery may be needed to remove dangerous cystic growths that are in or near important organs like the liver or heart.