How a Tapeworm Infection Is Diagnosed

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It is important to get a diagnosis and seek treatment for a tapeworm infection, although in many cases a tapeworm infection does not cause any symptoms and most people will not know that they are infected.

Diagnosis of tapeworm infection is usually made by detecting eggs and proglottids (worm segments) through stool examination, although many patients with tapeworms are detected when they find proglottids in their own stool or in the toilet.

It is not possible to determine which species of tapeworm is present without testing.

Infection with certain species, especially pork tapeworms (Taenia solium), there is the potential for serious complications with long-term effects on the central nervous system, making proper diagnosis and treatment important.

© Verywell, 2018

Self check

Tapeworms or tapeworm segments can be seen in the stool when they are passed along with a bowel movement.In particular, a head-like part of the tapeworm with suckers and hook-like structures attached to the intestines, called the scolex, can be seen.

The spots (more than one dragonfly) may be round, diamond-shaped, or elongated, depending on the species. It is important to bring a stool sample containing any fecal matter to a doctor or laboratory for stool testing.

Laboratory and Testing

stool test

Tapeworm infections can be diagnosed through stool testing.Tapeworms or eggs leave the body by passing through the intestines and eventually end up in the stool. The part of the worm that leaves the body will vary depending on the type of tapeworm causing the infection.

An ovary and parasite test can be used because it looks for eggs (ovules) and parasites (including tapeworms). For a stool test, the patient will need to take a stool sample and send it to a lab for analysis. Technicians will use a microscope to look for worm parts such as eggs or segments of worms called proglottids. Each type of worm can be identified based on certain characteristics, including size, shape, and internal structure. It may take several days to complete this test and return the results to your doctor.

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Stool testing can be completed in a variety of ways but in most cases is done by placing stool in a sterile plastic container. In many cases, the lab will have a bathroom that the patient can use to provide samples. If done at home, the lab will require the stool sample to be sent within an hour or two of collection unless it can be stored properly — in the refrigerator or with a liquid preservative. Samples may also need to be collected within a few days, as the Centers for Disease Control recommends testing three different samples.

If the test is positive for tapeworm, the doctor will prescribe treatment. The stool should be tested again after treatment to ensure that the parasite has been eliminated.

Blood tests

Fish tapeworm infection (Diphyllobothrium latum) can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency causing anemia. Your doctor may order blood tests to check for these complications. Other blood tests may also be used, but this is not common.

Physical examination

A physical exam can be inconclusive for most tapeworm infections, although it’s important to discuss any new signs and symptoms, even if they’re unrelated. gastrointestinal. In case cysticercosis (pork tapeworm infection) is capable of forming cysts under the skin. Your doctor may feel these cysts during a physical exam.

In case of bovine tapeworm infection, Taenia saginata, eggs can be found on examination of the perianal area (the skin around the anus). Eggs can be retrieved by applying a piece of cellophane tape to the perianal area. The eggs will stick to the tape, and the tape can be placed on a slide for examination under the microscope.


In cases where a tapeworm infection has spread beyond the intestines and into other organs and body tissues, imaging tests may be needed to look for cysts and determine if other lesions are present.

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According to the Merck Guidelines, stool tests may not be positive for tapeworms in 50 percent or more of people with tapeworm disease. Two imaging tests commonly used to diagnose fascioliasis in people with symptoms of an infection in the nervous system are computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

CT scan

A CT scan is a type of X-ray used to take pictures of organs, tissues, and structures inside the body. Preparation for this test may include fasting several hours in advance. Contrast can be injected through a vein so that certain parts of the body can be seen more clearly.

This test usually involves lying on a table that will slide into the CT machine. The machine will rotate around to take pictures, and it is important that you stay still or hold your breath as instructed by the technician.


An MRI is an imaging test that can be used to view structures inside the body, including the spine and brain. It is painless and non-invasive, although in some cases contrast can be injected into a vein to better see certain areas of the body.

The patient will lie on a table that is projected into the MRI machine, which is a large tube. Earplugs or headphones may be provided as certain noises may be generated by the machine.

Differential diagnosis

Most people infected with tapeworms have no symptoms, but if gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain are present, it may be necessary to rule out other gastrointestinal conditions such as:

  • appendicitis
  • enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine)
  • cholecystitis
  • gastroenteritis
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

In the case of cysticercosis and neurocysticercosis (when the central nervous system is affected by a disseminated infection), conditions that may cause symptoms in other areas may need to be ruled out. of the body outside the gastrointestinal tract and/or in the central nervous system, including:

  • brain abscess
  • Encephalitis
  • epileptic
  • meningitis
  • tumor

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frequently asked Questions

  • What does a tapeworm look like?

    Although there are many different types of tapeworms, nearly all of them share the same physical characteristics:

    • Flat body, like a ribbon
    • A head with sucker-like appendages (which worms use to attach to the intestines)
    • Neck
    • A series of connecting segments called proglottids sometimes contain eggs and can detach from the head and neck

    Most tapeworms that affect humans can grow up to 30 feet long, with the exception of the dwarf tapeworm, which can reach a maximum length of about 2 inches.

  • What does stool look like when you have a tapeworm infection?

    Sometimes a tapeworm will cause diarrhea (loose, watery stools). Otherwise, you won’t notice any significant change in the appearance of your stool unless a worm or a proglottid is passed during a bowel movement and you happen to notice.

  • Is tapeworm infection fatal?

    Not often, but it can happen in very rare cases. Life-threatening complications can arise when cysts develop in the brain due to a tapeworm infection. These cysts can cause behavior changes, seizures, or worse, and sometimes require surgical removal.

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