Parasite infections are quite common -- especially in children who are more likely to come into contact with dirt and surfaces hosting the organisms. The severity of a parasitic infection varies based on many factors including the type of parasite and the individual's age, immune system health, and how long the infection persists prior to diagnosis. Parasite infections can cause a range of symptoms, many of which are not exclusive to this ailment.
Stomach pain may be one of the first symptoms to develop when a person contracts a parasite, especially those that afflict the intestines. Various parasites live in foods such as red meat, and if this food is not cooked properly, the organisms can enter the body through the stomach after ingestion. In addition to contracting parasites in food, some can also spread from person to person or through the air and through skin contact. Contaminated water can also be a source. Once inside the body, parasites begin to procreate, and this causes pain to increase.
The presence of parasites in the gastrointestinal tract can cause inflammation in the abdomen, as well as gas and indigestion as the organisms release byproducts that build up in the gut. A large number of parasites can block the passage of food, which may result in sharp pain, abdominal swelling, vomiting, and difficulty having a bowel movement.
A frequent sign of some types of parasitic infection is itching around the anus. Anal itching can be a troublesome symptom and usually persists until the treatment takes effect. This symptom can cause embarrassment, interrupt sleep, and lead to anxiety. The itching tends to be at its worst during the night, which is when most parasites lay their eggs and are most active. The itching itself may damage the skin, increasing the likelihood of further infection.
People with a parasite often feel fatigued. Parasites consume nutrients and minerals the body needs to sustain itself. Moreover, certain parasites can severely affect the body's ability to absorb nutrients, impacting overall health. Prolonged consumption of nutrients by invaders leaves individuals feeling tired and weak, even if they are eating enough and getting enough sleep. Fatigue can lead to mood swings and increased stress or anxiety.
As the body fights a parasitic infection, the extra calories needed for this process, in addition to the nutrients the parasites are stealing, can lead to weight loss, which may be severe and rapid. Not only is the body forced to run on a calorie deficit, but it also fails to receive sufficient vitamins and minerals from food. Changes in appetite, in combination with weight loss and other symptoms, could indicate a parasite.
Some of the symptoms of a parasite can adversely affect stability and happiness, resulting in mood swings, irritability, and anxiety. The latter is often exacerbated by the knowledge of having a parasitic infection, which can be highly distressing. Luckily, once a doctor diagnoses a parasitic infection, it usually responds quickly to treatment. Prescription medication kills parasites and any eggs they may have laid.
Teeth grinding most often occurs at night and is usually an unconscious process. Also known as bruxism, the symptom is caused by general restlessness and physical stress from the body's inability to rest properly at night due to the parasites' increased activity. If teeth grinding continues untreated, the teeth can suffer structural and aesthetic damage. A dentist may be able to recommend a mouth guard to minimize the effects. Teeth grinding has a variety of causes and doesn't necessarily indicate the presence of parasites. However, a study in children found a higher incidence of parasites in children who grind their teeth.
Anemia develops due to low levels of hemoglobin -- a protein in blood that carries oxygen throughout the body. Among the many causes of anemia are parasites, which can cause iron deficiencies when they consume the mineral from iron-rich foods such as meat and fish rather than allowing it to do its essential work in the body. Over time, anemia causes fatigue, weakness, pale skin, and other issues.
Parasites can cause the skin to become red and irritated. Inflammation and the development of a rash are also common in the areas where the parasites are most prominent. In addition to general irritation, some people have allergic reactions to the parasites they have contracted. If this is the first noticeable symptom, the infection could be misdiagnosed as a reaction to something one has eaten. Skin symptoms of a parasitic infection develop because toxins and waste products are released locally on to the skin where the parasite enters. The body's immune response to the parasite can also cause skin inflammation and irritation. The blood may have increased levels of eosinophils, as well; this type of white blood cell increases in number with parasitic infections and allergies. In severe cases, these factors can cause hair and nails to stop growing.
Although not as frequent as other symptoms, parasitic infections can cause muscle pain. In rare cases, the organisms find their way into the muscle and soft tissues. This can happen with a parasitic infection called trichinosis, caused by eating meat that's not well cooked. Symptoms may extend to the joints, as well, and inflammation and muscle stiffness may develop. Because there are many other conditions or issues more likely to cause muscle pain, it can be challenging to diagnose a parasite based on this symptom alone.
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