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What Are the Symptoms of Tapeworm in Humans?

Tapeworm infections can lead to malnutrition and unintended weight loss.
A tapeworm is a parasite that lives in a host's intestines.
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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Images By: Watashiwani, 3Drenderings
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2014
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There are two different kinds of infections that happen because of tapeworm in humans. On the one hand, there is the better-known tapeworm infections that occur in the intestine. These may lead to weakness, weight loss, and digestive discomfort. Another kind of tapeworm infection has the potential to be deadly, and it happens when larvae spread throughout the body. This type generally causes totally different symptoms that could include everything from soreness to convulsions.

Tapeworm in humans is less common than it is in animals, but it’s generally more common than many people realize. Humans often catch tapeworms by eating undercooked meat, or sometimes by accidentally coming into contact with feces. Tapeworms may also occasionally contaminate drinking water.

The more traditional type of infection from tapeworm in humans occurs when the worm gets into the person's intestine and starts absorbing nutrients. Once the worms get large enough, this often results in a significant nutritional drain. Tapeworm infections of this variety often lead to noticeable weight loss, and some people have other symptoms of malnutrition, like chronic fatigue. The presence of the tapeworm in the intestine can also lead to nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

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On the other hand, tapeworm in humans may not ever cause any noticeable symptoms at all, or at least never cause problems that are severe enough for the person to visit a doctor. Even if the individual does seek medical care, the symptoms might easily be misdiagnosed as a simple stomach virus, and if the symptoms eventually lessen on their own, the person might never realize the diagnosis was wrong.

In some cases, tapeworm larvae can get into an individual's blood stream. Once this happens, the larvae tend to establish themselves in various organs and form cysts. This mechanism is one of the ways that people tend to catch tapeworms. This can happen to animals like cows and pigs, and tapeworm embryos might form small cysts in the meat that we eat. When this happens, if the meat isn’t cooked well enough, the embryo could survive and end up infecting someone.

If tapeworm embryos infect a person’s muscles or organs in this way, it can cause a lot of different problems. For example, the person may simply have cysts that he can’t explain or pain in certain areas of the body. If the embryos are in an organ, symptoms related to that organ might start occurring, and if they’re in the nervous system, the person may start having problems with his motor functions or even end up with symptoms similar to epilepsy. When this kind of tapeworm in humans isn’t caught early enough, it can be very dangerous, and it is often difficult for doctors to recognize it because the symptoms are so wide-ranging.

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