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 cysts in body tissues and organs (invasive tapeworm infection). If you ingest tapeworm larvae, however, they develop into adult tapeworms in the intestines (intestinal tapeworm 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 intestine wall, and the proglottids grow and produce eggs. Adult tapeworms can live for up to 20 years in a host. Intestinal tapeworm infections are usually mild, but invasive tapeworm infections can cause serious complications.
Many people with intestinal tapeworm infection have no symptoms. If you do feel the effects, 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.
The most common types of tapeworm infections in humans are:
A tapeworm infection starts after ingestion of tapeworm eggs or larvae.
This adult beef tapeworm (Taenia saginata) is 12 feet long. ...
Close-up of beef tapeworm
Close-up of adult beef tapeworm, in which segments are clearly visible. ...
Factors that may put you at greater risk of tapeworm infection include:
The consequences of tapeworm infection can vary, depending on what species of tapeworm you're infected with.
Intestinal infection complications
Invasive infection complications
Preparing for your appointment
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
A laboratory may use 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 the "Scotch tape test," in which a piece of transparent tape is pressed to the anus to collect eggs for microscopic identification.
Treatments and drugs
Some people with tapeworm infections never need treatment, and 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.
Medications for intestinal tapeworm
Be aware that these drugs target the adult tapeworm, not the eggs, so take care to avoid reinfecting yourself. Always wash your hands after using the toilet and before eating.
Stool samples are generally checked at one month or three months after you've finished taking your medication, depending on what species of tapeworm you have. Successful treatment should render your stool free of tapeworm eggs, larvae or proglottids. The success rate is high in people who receive appropriate treatment.
Treatments for invasive tapeworm infection
To prevent tapeworm infection:
Last Updated: 2009-11-25
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