Roundworms, or nematodes, are parasites that can infect people. They usually live in the intestines. There are different kinds of worms that can cause infection, and they can range in length from 1 millimeter to 1 meter.
Most often, eggs, or larvae, live in the soil and get into the body when you get them on your hands and then touch your mouth. Some can also get into the body through the skin.
Like other parasitic diseases, roundworm infections happen more often in warm, tropical climates. Ascariasis is the most common roundworm infection, and affects as many as 1 billion people worldwide.
The signs and symptoms of roundworm infection include:
Guinea worm disease
Symptoms start about one year after infection. When the adult worm is ready to lay eggs, it comes out through the skin. A blister develops, usually on the legs or feet, and becomes an open wound. When that part of your body is submerged in water, the tip of the worm comes out to lay its eggs. Symptoms include pain and swelling at the site of the wound.
Often there are not any symptoms, if there are symptoms they may include:
Many roundworm parasitic diseases are caused by poor sanitation and hygiene. Most roundworms or their eggs are found in the dirt and can be picked up on the hands and transferred to the mouth, or they can get into the body through the skin. Different species of roundworms cause different infections.
Roundworm infections include:
The risk factors for roundworm infection include:
Diagnosing roundworm infection involves finding out which worm is causing the infection. If you have lived in or visited an area where these parasites are common, your doctor may suspect an infection. If a worm passes through the mouth or rectum, take it to your doctor so it can be identified. Other steps in diagnosis may include:
It is easier to prevent roundworms than to cure them. The steps to preventing roundworm infection include:
The main treatment for roundworm infections are medications that kill parasites. Which medication you take depends on which roundworm is causing the infection. Sometimes a person may need surgery, but it is not always possible in areas where roundworm infections are common.
Roundworm infections can cause inflammation in the intestines and make it hard for your body to absorb essential nutrients, including vitamins A and B6. Some scientists think that not getting enough vitamin A increases the risk of parasitic infections. So some researchers believe that vitamin A supplements may help prevent or reduce symptoms of roundworm infections.
Antiparasitic drugs and other medications used to treat roundworm infections and certain complications include:
See "Warnings and Precautions" for certain medications that someone with roundworm infection should avoid.
Guinea worms should be removed surgically, but surgery is not available in many areas where there are a lot of infections. A person may also need surgery if the roundworm infection causes obstructions in the intestines or other organs. Treatment to reduce swelling from lymphatic filariasis may include:
Many people who are infected with roundworms are malnourished, so getting enough nutrients for overall health may help prevent and treat roundworm infection. However, scientists do not know of any supplements that will cure these infections once you have them. If you decide to use complementary and alternative therapies, be sure to tell your health care provider about the herbs and supplements you are using or considering using.
These tips for overall good health may lower chances of getting infected:
Herbs can help strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your provider to diagnose your problem before starting any treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, you should make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day.
Although there are no scientific studies that show any herbs help treat roundworm infections, the following herbs may help overall health:
Most antiparasitic drugs used to treat roundworm infection should not be used during pregnancy.
Ivermectin, a medication sometimes used to treat roundworm infections, should not be given to:
There are several possible complications associated with roundworm infections. They include:
Some roundworm infections can last a long time, and there are many possible complications. People living in areas where roundworm infections are common may become infected more than once. Fortunately, most roundworm infections can be treated with antiparasitic medications. For example, the prognosis in cases of ascariasis and pinworm is generally excellent.
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Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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