There are two main types of intestinal parasites: helminths and protozoa.
Helminths are worms with many cells. Usually, helminths cannot multiply in the
human body and will eventually clear up without infecting you again. Protozoa
have only one cell. They can multiply inside the human body.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms include the following.
Nausea or vomiting
Gas or bloating
Dysentery (loose stools containing blood and mucus)
Rash or itching around the rectum or vulva
Stomach pain or tenderness
Passing a worm in your stool
What Causes It?
The following factors put you at higher risk for getting intestinal
Living in or visiting an area known to have parasites
Poor sanitation (for both food and water)
Poor personal cleanliness
Age—children are more likely to get
Exposure to child and institutional care centers
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your health care provider will ask if you have traveled overseas recently and
whether you have recently lost weight. Your provider will examine you. If he or
she thinks you have an intestinal parasite, you will probably have one or more
of the following tests.
Fecal testing (examination of your stool) can identify both helminths
and protozoa. Stool samples must be collected before antidiarrhea drugs or
antibiotics are given, or X rays with barium are taken. Three (five for pinworm)
stool samples are needed to find the parasite.
The string test is used occasionally. For this test, you swallow a
string that is then pulled back up. Then samples of your stomach contents on the
string are tested.
The "Scotch tape" test identifies pinworm by placing tape around the
anus at night.
Your health care provider may use X rays with barium to diagnose more
serious problems caused by parasites, although this is usually not
Your health care provider will choose the drug most effective against your
intestinal parasite. Drug treatment may be just one dose or several over a
period of weeks. Be careful to take the medicine just as it is prescribed or it
may not work.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
While alternative treatments may be helpful in getting rid of intestinal
parasites, your health care provider must find out what kind of organism is
causing your problems before you start treatment. The following nutritional
guidelines will help keep organisms from growing. It is important to maintain
good bowel habits during treatment.
Avoid simple carbohydrates such as are found in refined foods,
fruits, juices, dairy products, and all sugars.
Eliminate caffeine and alcohol.
Eat more raw garlic, pumpkin seeds, pomegranates, beets, and carrots,
all of which have antiworm properties. Drink a lot of water to promote good
Digestive enzymes will help restore your intestinal tract to its
normal state, which makes it inhospitable to parasites. Papain taken 30 minutes
before or after meals helps kill worms. Acidophilus supplements help normalize
bowel bacteria (one capsule with meals).
Vitamin C (250 to 500 mg two times a day)and zinc (20 to 30 mg per
day) support the immune system.
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As
with any therapy, it is important to work with your health care provider on
getting your problem diagnosed before you start any treatment. Herbs may be used
as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or
tinctures (alcohol extracts). Many of the herbs used to treat intestinal
parasites have toxic side effects. Use them only under the supervision of a
qualified practitioner. He or she will treat you with the most gentle herb that
is effective for the type of parasite you have. A few of the herbs that the
herbal specialist might consider include:
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
In a recent study of children with acute diarrhea, those who received an
individualized homeopathic treatment for five days had a significantly shorter
duration of diarrhea than children who received placebo. Before prescribing a
remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type. In
homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional,
and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors
as well as any current symptoms when determining the most appropriate remedy for
a particular individual. The following remedies were used to treat the children
mentioned in the previous study:
Arsenicum album — for foul-smelling
diarrhea with a burning sensation in the abdomen and around the anus; this
remedy is most appropriate for individuals who feel anxious, restless, and
exhausted; symptoms tend to worsen after midnight and in the cold; symptoms
improve with warmth; vomiting may also occur
Chamomilla — for greenish, frothy
stool that smells like rotten eggs; used primarily for children, especially
those who are irritable, argumentative, difficult to console, and change their
Calcarea carbonica — for children who
fear being in the dark or alone and who perspire heavily while sleeping; stools
have a sour odor
Podophyllum — for explosive, gushing,
painless diarrhea that becomes worse after eating or drinking (even though the
individual is often thirsty and craves cold drinks); exhaustion often follows
bowel movements and the individual for whom this remedy is appropriate may
experience painful cramps in lower extremities
Sulphur — for irritable and weepy
children; may have a red ring around the anus and diarrhea with the odor of
May help stimulate bowel function and
Your health care provider will retest your stool to be sure your parasite is
gone, and will give you advice to help you avoid reinfection. Follow these
instructions carefully. Getting a parasite a second time can cause more serious
The seriousness and length of illness varies with the specific intestinal
parasite. Complications occur more often in older people and in people who
already have serious illnesses, such as AIDS.
Intestinal parasites can be more serious if you are pregnant. Your health
care provider will tell you which drugs are safe to take during pregnancy.
Treatment for intestinal parasites during pregnancy should be closely monitored
by a qualified practitioner.
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Review Date: August 1999
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, FACP,
Director, The Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, Lutherville, MD; Lonnie
Lee, MD, Internal Medicine, Silver Springs, MD; Elizabeth Wotton, ND, private
practice, Sausalito, CA.
The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of
the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse
of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage
to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or
otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents
of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds
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guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare
practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts)
regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed