Types of parasites (I have what? Where?)
First thing: have you eaten recently? Are you about to eat? If yes to either question, you may want to pause and wait to read this far away from mealtime.
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There’s a reason why most people tack on a expletive either before or after “parasites.” For example, “Parasites are little [expletive]s,” or “those little SOBs.” That kind of thing. If you have ever had parasites, you know why.
The major misnomer about parasites is that they are “a third world country problem.” No. In fact, according to the CDC, over 60 million people are either newly diagnosed every year or chronically infected by parasitic infections in the United States.
They are insidious little you-know-whats. And in addition to causing countless people a whole range of toilet-centric anxiety and discomfort, people are usually mortified and disgusted when they find out their GI tract is a bio-brothel for worms and bugs. Nobody wants a bio-brothel for a colon.
Your body could be home to any of the following three types of parasites:
1. Protozoa: tiny, microscopic, one celled organisms that can multiply faster than rabbits
2. Helminths: you would call them worms - they are visible with the naked eye, such as tapeworms, pinworms, etc.
3. Ectoparasites (Arthropods): the friendly little guys that live on the outside of our skin (ticks, lice, mites, etc.)
Protozoa in particular can be have wicked consequences for health, both because they can be harder to diagnose (unless you test for parasites), and because a single organism can multiply through your system like wild fire.
Here are 5 symptoms of parasites that most people/website are too embarrassed or self-conscious to talk about.
1 - You want to scoot your bare butt on the ground (itchy anus)
An itchy chocolate starfish is uncomfortable. But parasitic-infection itches aren’t the kind that make you want to get in there and scratch with a stiff wire brush. Parasitic itches are the Chinese-torture of itches: subtle, drive-you-crazy, persistent itchiness.
In fact, of all patients we see with signs of parasites, this is usually what we hear about first. And because talking about your itchy caca-creator isn’t exactly dinner conversation, patients usually tell us about their itchy-rear in the form of a hushed confessional.
The fact is that an itchy anus – affectionately known as pruritus ani in medical textbooks – will make life miserable, and can also be accompanied by an itchy crotch. Try having a romantic conversation on a date when it feels like a spider is spinning a web over your gassy-yawner. Likewise:
- At work you do a lot less working and a lot more squirming, readjusting, and bathroom breaks
- When trying to sleep it feels a nest of ants is building a new home between your cheeks or around your crotch
- When you try and work out it’s as if a bee mistakenly took your rear for the entrance to its hive
No kidding, an itchy rectum can be debilitating and interfere with most daily activities: sitting at work, sitting watching TV, yoga, gym, etc.
Itchy brown stars are most commonly associated with pinworms (Enterobius vermicularis) when the female pinworms migrate from the bowel to to the buttocks in order to lay their eggs. And yes, that’s exactly how it sounds – pinworms take a jaunt (often at night) from the inside of your rectum, along the Hershey Highway, onto your butt-cheeks to lay their eggs on your cheeks, sheets, toilet seats, or wherever you itch-and-touch.
Initial pinworm infections happen because eggs from someone else's rear end up in your mouth. Ever see those signs in restaurant-bathrooms, "Employees must wash hands before returning to work"? Now you know why.
You can actually see these little guys with a flashlight a couple of hours after someone has gone to sleep, or in their underwear in the morning. See number 6 in this post on recognizing pinworms.
And if you are reading this and starting to itch, don’t worry – reading about pinworms is enough to make you squirm (sort of like when you hear a mosquito buzzing it suddenly feels like you are getting bit everywhere).
You might also like:
- Itchy Butt | Why You Squirm and What to Do About It
- Bathroom Blowout: IBS Symptoms, Scenarios, Causes, and Treatments
2 - Feels Like you have a leaky back door
Another sign of parasites that most websites aren't itching to talk about is the fact that parasites can make it feel like you are leaking, or didn’t wipe enough. It’s not as bad as an itchy chocolate starfish, but it’s disconcerting nonetheless.
In fact, parasites can even cause fecal incontinence, which is basically a term for “diapers required.” Because of parasitic infections, IBS, and a slew of other health issues, fecal incontinence is actually not-uncommon. In fact, parasitic infections can cause a whole range of IBS symptoms.
Parasite-infection symptoms often include either the “feeling” of fecal incontinence or actual incontinence.
Research has shown a significant link between parasite giardia and irritable bowel syndrome. As many people with IBS know, fecal incontinence is quite a nuisance. Things like first dates, airplane rides, long car rides, and trips to the movies take on a whole new dimension.
If you are finding little presents in your underwear at night, it might be time for a parasite lab test.
3 - Feels like something’s crawling under your skin (because it is!)
Though there is limited medical research on the parasites and formication, there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence from medical providers that people with parasitosis complain of a “crawly feeling” on their skin.
Depending on the type of parasitic infection, this sensation may actually be real – which is somehow even more disturbing than simply being an illusion. For example, scabies or trichomaniasis or pinworms can provide that heartwarming crawling feeling – especially in the sensitive, damp, and fleshy corridors of human anatomy.
4 - Seeing more than food in the toilet
You look at your poop. Everyone does. And if you see little white "things" in your poop, you can probably guess what's going on. Why more online resources don’t discuss this is beyond me, as it's the single most iconic symptom of parasites.
Worms in your poo is disgusting to say the least. I’ll spare accosting you with images of other people’s worm-ridden stools (just do a Google search for “parasite in stool” if you're looking for a dinner-primer), but basically worms in your poo look like:
- Small white dots in your poo (look closely, they look like tiny pieces of rice)
- Tiny (about .5-1cm), thin, brown/white, stringy things
- Long, thin, white stringy thing(s)
If you have them, and you look closely, there’s little doubt what it is. Of course, the thing to remember is that many parasitic infections don’t show up in your poop.
5 - Grinding teeth at night, and other nervous behavior
Pick up a mouth-guard recently? You’re probably thinking, “Grinding teeth? What the heck?” It’s called bruxism, aka teeth grinding.
It doesn’t make much sense at first, but a sudden change to grinding your teeth at night is a major sign of parasite infections. What happens is:
- Parasites eat vitamins in your body (hence the common vitamin deficiency in people with parasitosis)
- Parasites poop out waste and toxins into your body
- Parasitic waste act as an irritant to your central nervous system
- Your teeth grind in response to the central nervous system irritation
In addition to the teeth grinding, another sign of parasite infections is general nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, and moodiness. Once again, this happens in response to central nervous system irritants caused by parasite-poo.
Think of it as the alarm going off in your nervous system, saying, “Something’s wrong something’s wrong something’s wrong.” You know the feeling of forgetting something important, but you can’t quite remember what it was you forgot? It’s feels like that, all the time.
This usually happens in response to systemic (i.e., long term) parasitosis.
common symptoms of parasites Found on Other websites
Beyond the above listed symptoms, here are the same list of symptoms that pop up on most other websites:
- Gas/bloating: some parasites live in the small intestine where the inflammation they produce causes gas and bloating
- Diarrhea: parasites – mainly protozoa – produce a substance called prostaglandin (sounds an awful lot like “prostate”) that results in loss of sodium and chloride, leading to watery stools
- Constipation: heavy worm infections can physically obstruct your intestinal tract, leading to a poo-free toilet
- Anemia/vitamin deficiency: parasites love the nutrients we put into our body (i.e. vitamin B12), which means when they feast we get sick. If they grow big enough, they can cause iron deficiency
- Skin conditions: intestinal worms have a propensity to cause hives, rashes, eczema, and other pleasant skin reactions ; cutaneous ulcers, sores, lesions, and itchy scalp are some pleasant reactions from protozoan parasites
- Sleep disturbances: parasites are most active at night, whether is metabolizing food or taking a nightly jaunt out your back door, and these activities can easily wake you up (especially 2-4am)
- Chronic fatigue: parasites eat nutrients from your diet that provide energy
There are of course many other subtle symptoms as well, but the above points are symptoms of parasite infections we hear about the most, and are most commonly listed on other sites.
Testing for parasites
Do you have pets? Do you test them for parasites? The answer is often yes. It’s amazing that people don’t regularly test for parasites too.
The most surefire way to find out if you have parasites is to test for them. Tests are easy. There is one primary test, called a stool sample and parasitology. All you need to do is catch a few back-door boulders on their way out.
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