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The two main types of intestinal parasites are helminths and protozoa. Helminths are worms with many cells. Tapeworms, pinworms, and roundworms are among the most common helminths in the United States. In their adult form, helminths cannot multiply in the human body. Protozoa have only one cell, and can multiply inside the human body, which can allow serious infections to develop. Intestinal parasites are usually transmitted when someone comes in contact with infected feces (for example, through contaminated soil, food, or water). In the U.S., the most common protozoa are giardia and cryptosporidium.
Signs and Symptoms
Parasites can live within the intestines for years without causing any symptoms. When they do, symptoms include the following:
What Causes It?
These things raise your risk for getting intestinal parasites:
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your health care provider will ask if you have traveled out of the country recently and whether you have recently lost weight. If your health care provider thinks you have an intestinal parasite, you will probably have one or more of the following tests:
Your health care provider will choose the drug that is most effective against your intestinal parasite. You may need one dose, or you may have to take the medication for several weeks. Be careful to take the medicine exactly as it is prescribed, or it may not work.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Conventional medical treatments can get rid parasites more quickly and with fewer side effects than most alternative treatments. Alternative treatments may be helpful along with conventional medications. However, your health care provider must find out what kind of organism is causing your problems before you start treatment. The following nutritional guidelines may help keep parasites from growing.
Nutrition and Supplements
Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care 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). People with a history of alcoholism should not take tinctures.
Many of the herbs used to treat intestinal parasites have toxic side effects or interfere with other medications. Use them only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. Your health care provider should treat you with the most gentle herb that is effective for the type of parasite you have. A few of the herbs that your health care provider might consider include:
As with other treatments, your health care provider must first diagnose the kind of parasite you have. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your 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 may be used:
Your health care provider will retest your stool to be sure your parasite is gone, and will give you advice to help you avoid getting infected again. Follow these instructions carefully. Getting a parasite a second time can cause more serious health problems.
The seriousness and length of illness varies with the specific intestinal parasite. Complications happen 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. You doctor should closely monitor any treatment for intestinal parasites during pregnancy.
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Review Date: 4/4/2012
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.
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