What is the clinical history of tapeworm infestation?

Updated: Apr 15, 2021
  • Author: Lisandro Irizarry, MD, MBA, MPH, FACEP; Chief Editor: Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD  more...
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Many cestode infestations are asymptomatic. The organisms may be discovered by patients during defecation with the fecal passage of proglottids. Tapeworms may migrate from the rectum (possibly causing itching) and may be seen on toilet paper or undergarments. However, once symptoms occur, they are usually vague GI complaints of abdominal pain, cramps, anorexia, nausea, diarrhea, weight loss, or malaise.

T solium infections are usually asymptomatic; however, infected patients may have generalized complaints include epigastric or periumbilical discomfort; nausea; hunger; and weight loss, anorexia, or increased appetite. The cysticerci that develop with T solium infestations can be found anywhere in the body, but they mainly occur in the central nervous system and skeletal muscles, causing local inflammatory responses and mass effects from the cystic growth. If neurocysticercosis develops, seizure is the most common form of presentation, occurring in up to 80% of patients with parenchymal brain cysts or calcifications.

With T saginata infection, usually, the patient becomes aware of infection when worm segments are passed in the stool. Some patients complain of epigastric pain, diarrhea, and weight loss. Similar to T solium infection, the presence of cysticerci in T saginata infection can result in symptoms of obstruction of the appendix, biliary duct, and pancreatic duct.

Diphyllobothrium infestations may result in intestinal discomfort, diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, and weight loss.

The cestode is not invasive, but it does absorb a large amount of vitamin B-12 and interferes with vitamin B-12 absorption from the ileum, producing a megaloblastic anemia that resembles pernicious anemia (clinically and hematologically). The tapeworm must thus be in a proximal portion of the intestine, and probably intrinsic factor secretion is defective in the host (allowing for diminished capacity to absorb vitamin B-12).

Patients may complain of neurologic symptoms resembling pernicious anemia (eg, paresthesias, difficulty with balance, dementia or confusional states).

Hymenolepis typically produces asymptomatic infections; however, in patients who may have a number of parasites present, the patient can have vague symptoms of anorexia, abdominal pain, and diarrhea (the developing cysticercoids destroy their housing villi, thus with a number of parasites, significant enteritis may develop). The number of worms is regulated by the hosts nutritional and immunity states.

D caninum infections are mostly asymptomatic with some symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhea, anal pruritus, and urticaria.

Echinococcosis infections are potentially dangerous because they typically remain asymptomatic until the cysts cause a mass effect on an organ, which can occur 5-20 years after the initial infestation.

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