A parasite is to be understood as a small animal that attacks its so-called host, takes advantage of it and thereby harms it.

The host can be both plants and animals. The parasite then uses the part of the host that it needs to feed on it or to reproduce in it. Parasites that remain on the surface of the host are called ectoparasites. Parasites that, like intestinal parasites, are located in their host are called endoparasites.

Read more on the topic: Parasites of humans

Which parasites can attack the intestines?

The parasites that infest the human intestine can be in Helminths, which literally means worm, and Protozoa, which means single-celled organisms are classified.

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Among the worms are the flukes, such as Gut leech or Schistosoma, and the roundworms that Neomatodes to be named.

Tapeworms also belong to this group of parasites. There are also different types of them that besides humans attack other animals and are often named after them. These include Pig, beef, dog and fox tapeworm. They can partially penetrate the intestinal wall and thus also reach other organs such as the liver or the brain.

There are also hookworms that bite into the intestinal wall, roundworms that can eat their way up to the lungs and are then coughed up, and pinworms that settle particularly around the sphincter.

The protozoa that attack the human intestine include the flagellates (Guard), Root pod (Amoeba) and spore animals, such as Toxoplasma.

These unicellular organisms are all very small creatures that can usually only be seen under a microscope. However, they should not be underestimated as some, like some worms, can get through the intestinal wall into other organs. They can cause serious damage there and also in the intestines. With good treatment, intestinal parasites are usually not dangerous, so a doctor should be consulted at an early stage, especially if there are abnormalities in the bowel movement.

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Read more on the subject at: Infectious diarrheal diseases

How does the ingestion of parasites come about?

Most parasites enter the intestine orally, i.e. through the mouth, through the stomach.

Some parasites are ingested in the form of eggs, others as larvae and still others as mature parasites.

Since intestinal parasites often also attack animals, humans often ingest them through raw meat or small remnants of the animal's faeces, which can hang on wild berries, among other things. Parasites can also be found in contaminated water. They can also be transmitted from person to person.

In the case of intestinal parasites, this transmission can also occur during anal intercourse. In addition, the Schistosoma So flukes drill through the skin into the body and thus get into the intestine.

Concomitant symptoms

The accompanying symptoms of intestinal parasite infection depend on the type of parasite. Most intestinal parasites share problems that affect the digestive tract.

This can lead to stomach cramps with nausea and vomiting.

In addition, the intestinal infestation with parasites is noticeable in some patients due to an unclear weight loss. This is caused by the fact that the parasites either feed on the intestinal contents or bite into the intestinal wall, thus damaging it and the normal intake of food through the wall is no longer possible.

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At the same time, the feeling of appetite can decrease or increase. The accompanying symptoms are either cravings for sweet foods or a persistent feeling of fullness.

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Furthermore, the excretion is particularly affected. Depending on the parasite, symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, or a mixture of both occur alternately.

It is very important to watch out for abnormalities such as painful bowel movements or itching in the anal area. If these accompanying symptoms occur, the stool should be examined closely. Attention should be paid to the presence of blood in the stool, black stool or small animals or eggs.

For example, when infested with amoeba, severe slimy and bloody diarrhea occurs. The hookworms bite into small wounds that can lead to blood loss. If the blood remains in the intestine for a long time, it clots, turns black and the stool becomes darker.

When the intestine is infested with pinworms, itching occurs in the area of ​​the sphincter, especially at night. This comes about because the pinworms crawl out of the intestines there at night and lay their eggs in the anal area.

In the morning, small balls are usually visible there. Now and then these complaints are accompanied by insomnia and exhaustion the next day. The symptom of fatigue can also occur with other parasites in the intestine, as the parasites always cause damage to their host. If the damage is so great that the host is deprived of a great deal of energy due to increased defense processes, blood loss or lack of food, this results in a reduction in general well-being.

Symptoms such as restlessness, memory disorders and nervousness occur more frequently. The lack of nutrients can also mean that there is no longer enough energy available to build up intact skin, which creates major problems. The associated symptoms are usually dry skin, itching, or rashes.

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Read more on the topic: Itching on the anus - these are the causes

Therapy for intestinal infestation with parasites

Medicines, naturopathic treatments or, in rare cases, operations can be used to treat parasites in the intestine.

If you suspect an infestation with intestinal parasites, a doctor should be consulted, as he can determine the type of parasite and thus initiate the best therapy. Medicines against parasites are substances that kill the parasites or stop them from multiplying. Depending on the type of parasite, different agents are used that are tailored to certain characteristics of the parasite.

Colon irrigation can also be used as a natural therapy against parasites. Natural substances such as castor oil, aloe vera, garlic, grapefruit seeds and pumpkin seeds can also support the therapy against parasite infestation.

Some parasites, such as the dog or fox tapeworm, can “eat” their way through the intestinal wall into the tissue and thus get into other organs such as the liver. In the case of a slight infestation, this poses no problem for the patient and one can first wait. However, if the liver is so severely affected that its function is impaired, surgery may be necessary.

You might also be interested in: Liver abscess

Which drugs are used?

Like antibiotics that work against bacteria, there are drugs called antiparasitics that are used against parasites.

Since the types of intestinal parasites have different survival strategies, the drug must be tailored to the respective infestation. The drugs albendazole, mebendazole and praziquantel are used particularly frequently for worms such as tapeworms. Since this medication has many side effects, taking cortisol may help prevent it.

Protozones, i.e. single cells, are similar to bacteria. Similar drugs such as furazolidone and metronidazole are also effective here. The respective dosage of the medication is adjusted depending on the patient's body weight and the severity of the infestation.

How infectious are parasites in the gut?

The likelihood of being infected with parasites in the intestine depends heavily on the individual lifestyle.

If you come into contact with a sufficient number of parasites, they are very contagious.

Therefore, good hygienic conditions should be ensured, especially in countries where the hygiene standards are low and the frequency of parasitic diseases is high. This includes avoiding contaminated food and boiling drinking water.

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But not only in such areas, but everywhere, the contagious parasites can largely be avoided by washing hands properly, especially after the toilet and before eating.

In addition, when eating, care should be taken not to eat directly from the forest floor, as, for example, some animals have parasite eggs in the feces that are also on berries and are very contagious. Parasites that live in the tissue can also be infected by eating raw meat, eggs or milk.

Since animals that travel a lot in nature and can infect parasites there, pets should also be looked at carefully and searched for worms. The risk of infection is also high when there is close contact with other people who are infected with parasites. Therefore, if one member is infected, the whole family should be carefully examined.

Which doctor treats this?

A parasite infection should always be treated by a doctor. If there is any suspicion, the family doctor can first be consulted.

After his examination, he decides whether it is actually a parasite infection or a harmless gastrointestinal infection that he can treat himself. If there is an infestation with parasites, a referral to an infectiologist can be made.

If the parasite infestation is related to a trip to endangered areas, the Institute for Tropical Medicine is the right contact. The doctors there specialize in such diseases and can treat them specifically.

What are the signs of parasites?

The most important and clearest signs of parasites are changes in the stool or even the finding of small animals in stool, vomit or sputum. Parasite infestation is particularly likely if there is a suspicious history, such as eating berries in the forest or traveling to countries with low hygiene standards.

Other common signs of parasites include stomach cramps, indigestion, and weight loss. However, they also occur in many other gastrointestinal diseases and therefore do not clearly indicate a parasite infestation.

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