Stomach parasites are parasitic organisms that inhabit the stomach or intestines of humans, often causing severe discomfort, and in some cases leading to death. People may sustain certain stomach parasites for extended periods of time, experiencing only minor symptoms, such as loss of energy and appetite, or some intestinal problems. Other stomach parasites can cause extreme acute responses very rapidly, necessitating swift and effective treatment.
Parasitic worms are one of the largest groups of stomach parasites, and are one of the most common. Hundreds of types of worms can live in a human organism, ranging in size from the microscopic to large enough to wrap around your arm. There are many different ways worms can infect people, but generally they make their way into the body through contaminated food. Often this is food that has been tainted by either human or animal feces, but it may also be directly contaminated. Worms can also be introduced into an organism via sexual contact, bug bites, or simply by crawling in to the mouth, ears, or nose of a person.
Nematoda is the most common group of stomach parasites, and includes hookworms, roundworms, pinworms, heart worms, and trichinosis. Of these, roundworms are the most common, with more than a billion people infected worldwide. While not life threatening in most situations, roundworms can cause severe pain, as well as rashes, asthma, and in the case of a large-scale infestation, serious intestinal blockage and damage.
Another large group of stomach parasites are the protozoa, or single-celled, parasites. The most well-known of these are the amoebae, but others include neospora, cryptosporidium, and giardia. Amoebic dysentery is caused by an infection of Entamoeba histolytica, and is most often spread through contaminated water. Amoebae can cause serious intestinal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and in severe cases liver complications. Often people mistake so-called “traveller’s sickness” for amoebic dysentery, when in fact this is generally brought on by a simple viral infection.
Giardia is the most common stomach parasite on the planet, and is generally introduced into the body by drinking contaminated water. Millions of giardia protozoa line the walls of the small intestine, sucking up all the nutrients meant to be absorbed into the body. People who have giardia generally experience gas and loose stool, chills and feverish sweats, diarrhea, and severe stomach pains. If left untreated, giardia can cause the body to become malnourished, and seriously compromise the immune system.
Although it can be difficult to correctly diagnose a specific parasitic infection based solely on symptoms, stomach parasites can be easily diagnosed by subjecting a stool sample to lab testing. Treatment of stomach parasites ranges from home remedies with few side effects, to intense anti-parasitic drugs that can have serious detrimental effects on the liver and other organs. There is a school of thought that holds most people are in fact in the throes of some low-level parasitic infection, and promote undergoing at-home “parasite cleanses” to eliminate the parasites. Generally, however, most medical professionals do not share this view.