Tapeworm is a parasite that grows in the intestines (gut). They can live in your body for many years. Or they can leave the body during a bowel movement. Tapeworms can cause an infection.
The eggs are found in feces of infected humans and animals. You can get a tapeworm if you eat or drink something that was made by an infected person who did not wash his or her hands after using the toilet. You can also get an infection from eating undercooked pork or beef from infected cows or pigs.
You can have a tapeworm infection and not even know it. This is because there are often no symptoms. But you might notice larvae or small pieces of the worm in your stool (feces). When symptoms occur, they include weakness, stomach pain, nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and weight loss.
Without treatment, tapeworms can cause very serious illness. The larvae can travel to other parts of the body. They can cause cysts to form in your organs, such as in the liver, lungs, eyes, and brain. But most people recover without any problems if the larvae are treated before they spread outside the intestine.
Before treating a tapeworm infection, your healthcare provider needs to know what kind of tapeworm you have. You may need blood tests and up to 3 stool specimens collected on different days. Then your healthcare provider can prescribe a medicine.
A tapeworm infection that remains in the intestines responds well to oral medicines. If the infection has spread to other organs, more serious symptoms can occur. Cysts in your brain can cause seizures. You may need surgery to remove the cysts depending on their location.
Your healthcare provider will need to test samples of your stool for up to 3 months after your treatment to be sure you are clear of infection.
The following will help you care for yourself at home:
Take any prescribed medicine exactly as directed.
It's very important that you always wash your hands after using the toilet. Also wash your hands before handling or eating any food or drink. You could reinfect yourself for several months after treatment by coming into contact with the eggs or larvae that remain in your feces.
Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. Tell your healthcare provider if you have unwanted weight loss of more than 10 pounds in a 6-month period or if you continue to feel weak or tired.
When to seek medical advice
Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:
Continued nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
Increasing abdominal pain
Fever over 100.4º F (38.0º C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider
Headaches, visual changes, or seizures