Consuming foods or water contaminated with the tapeworm eggs and larvae triggers tapeworm infection. In the intestines, the eggs hatch or the larvae grow into adult worms. In some cases, the tapeworm larvae may move outside the intestines into the bloodstream and settle in another body organ.
The worm living in the intestine causes mild symptoms. Serious health complications develop when the tapeworm egg or larva invades tissues outside the intestines. A large number of people with intestinal tapeworm rarely experience any symptom of the infection. The symptoms usually depend upon the tapeworm species and the location of the worm.
Common Symptoms of Tapeworm Infection
Nausea or Vomiting
Just as any other gastrointestinal infection, nausea or vomiting can be induced by intestinal tapeworm infection. Nausea persists until the worm is eliminated from the intestines.
Another common symptom of tapeworm infection is mild to moderate epigastric pain or pain in the upper central part of the abdomen.
The worm irritates the intestines, which may trigger diarrhea. Frequent diarrhea is a common symptom of tapeworm infection.
Change in appetite can be a sign of tapeworm infection. Some tapeworm species such as the fish tapeworm reduces appetite, whereas others such as pork or beef tapeworm may increase appetite. Loss in appetite is more likely to occur in people experiencing gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. The tapeworm survives on food eaten by its human host. The appetite of its host increases to compensate the loss of vital food ingredients.
Malnutrition and Weight Loss
Tapeworms absorb nutrients from food in the intestines, significantly reducing availability of nutrients to its human host. The longer the worm remains in the intestines, the greater is the risk of experiencing malnutrition.Even increase in appetite, a common sign of infection caused by certain species of the worm, cannot prevent malnutrition. Overtime, malnutrition leads to unintended weight loss. If you experience weight loss and malnutrition despite consuming a nutritious diet, you can seek a stool test to check the presence of tapeworms in the intestine.
Although rare, tapeworm infection can cause anemia. It usually occurs owing to fish tapeworm infection. The worm absorbs vitamin B12 from the intestines, rapidly depleting the vitamin B12 reserve of the body. This B vitamin is a key nutrient needed for formation of red blood cells. Anemia may even occur owing to iron deficiency caused by malnutrition.
Malnutrition and anemia can cause dizziness in people suffering from tapeworm infection. Dizziness can also be a sign of cysticercosis that develops when the pork tapeworm larva burrows through the intestinal wall, enters the bloodstream and settles in some other organ. If the cyst formed by the tapeworm larvae affects the brain or the central nervous system, dizziness may occur.
Invasive tapeworm infection that affects the brain can cause headache.
Pain in the Lungs or Chronic Coughing
Chronic coughing and pain in the lungs occur when the tapeworm larva is transported to a lung.
Along with the above symptoms, tapeworm larvae infection can cause fever.