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 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 larval 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.
When to see a doctor
A tapeworm infection starts after ingestion of tapeworm eggs or larvae.
Factors that may put you at greater risk of tapeworm infection include:
Intestinal tapeworm infections usually aren't complicated. The complications that do sometimes develop include:
Preparing for your appointment
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.
What you can do
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.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose a tapeworm infection, your doctor may rely on one of the following:
Treatments and drugs
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.
Treatments for intestinal infections
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.
Treatments for invasive infections
To prevent tapeworm infection:
Last Updated: 2011-12-20
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