Last updated:

Reviewed by:

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Tapeworm is an infection of a worm, usually in the intestines. It’s caused by eating undercooked meat or having poor hygiene. Learn about the symptoms and treatments.

What is a tapeworm?

A tapeworm is a type of worm that lives inside your body, most commonly in your intestines. Tapeworms are an example of a parasite. Parasites are creatures that live inside another animal or plant and they use the creature they live in to survive and grow.

What are the symptoms of tapeworm?

Many people may have a tapeworm infection without any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they may include:

  • Unexplained weight loss 

  • Feeling nauseous 

  • Diarrhoea

  • Itchy, red rash 

  • Seeing worms in your poo

  • Tummy pain

  • Weakness

If the tapeworm infection moves from the intestine to another part of your body, you may have more symptoms including:

  • Headaches

  • Eye problems

  • Seizures 

If you experience these signs and symptoms it is important you get in contact with your doctor.

How common are tapeworms?

Tapeworms are most common in countries such as Africa, Asia and some parts of America.

Complications of tapeworm

If the tapeworm spreads from your intestine to other parts of your body, it can cause other problems. These can include:

  • Cysts

  • Blocked digestion

  • Appendicitis

  • Headaches or eye problems

It’s important to treat tapeworm so that it doesn’t impact other parts of your body.

What causes a tapeworm infection?

Tapeworm is caused by eating food with tapeworm eggs or larvae. This may be from raw or undercooked meat or food containing poo from an infected human or animal.

How to prevent tapeworms

You can prevent getting tapeworms with good hygiene and food safety habits.

  • Wash your hands regularly

  • Cook meat at high temperatures

  • Wash your fruit and vegetables well

  • Throw away pet poo as soon as possible 

  • Treat your pets if they’re infected with tapeworm 

What are the risk factors for tapeworm?

Risk factors that increase your chances of having tapeworm include:

  • Poor hygiene 

  • Living on a farm

  • Dealing with or eating raw meat or fish 

  • Travelling to countries where tapeworm is more common

How are tapeworms diagnosed?

Tapeworms are mostly diagnosed using a small amount of your poo. This is called a stool test and your poo will be looked at closely to see if there are any tapeworms or tapeworm eggs. 

You may also have a blood test or physical exam. 

If it is a worry that the tapeworm has spread, you may have some scans.

How to treat tapeworms

If you have seen your doctor and it is shown you have tapeworms, your doctor will give you medicine. The medicine will kill the tapeworms. If you live with other people, it is also important they get checked at the doctors.

Some people may have tapeworms which eventually leave through their poo, this may happen without them noticing. They then don’t need medicine because they don’t have tapeworms anymore.

Tapeworms in children

Tapeworms in children are similar to that in adults. The main difference is that children are more likely to get tapeworms because they are often less careful with their hygiene. They may complain of tummy ache and have some tummy problems, but some children will not have any symptoms. You may notice worms in their poo. They will look a white colour, flat and ribbon-like in shape. If you are worried about a child having tapeworms, you should get in contact with a doctor.

Lifecycle of a tapeworm 

Stages of the tapeworm lifecycle

  • Tapeworm eggs are released into the environment though the poo of an infected animalThis poo is then eaten by an animal, for example, a pig. 

  • A tapeworm then grows in the animal's intestines and infects the animal's muscle. 

  • Humans then eat meat from the infected animal which is undercooked, leading to humans then getting a tapeworm. 

When should I seek help?

If you have any of the symptoms of a tapeworm infection it is important to seek help from a doctor.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
undefined, Lead GP at Livi