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Parasitic infestations in the gastrointestinal tract

Constipation in children

Parasitic infestations - Part 1 of 2

>> Parasitic infestations - Giardiasis >>

The gastrointestinal tract is home to a lot of microorganisms that aid in the digestion of foodstuffs. However, the typical human lifestyle makes the gastrointestinal tract increasingly susceptible to not just increased populations of microorganisms, but also with parasites. Among the effects of these parasitic infestations is constipation, primarily due to abnormalities in the area of colon. Let us try to tackle two of these, namely Chagas' disease and giardiasis, one after the other.


Chagas' disease, otherwise known as American trypanosomiasis, is a disease caused by a protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. It is the most important cause of heart disease in some areas especially in South America, and is usually acquired during childhood. It is usually transmitted via reduviid ((triatomine) bugs which are infected with contaminated blood from animals or humans. The trypanosomes circulate within the vascular system of an infected human or animal, and upon entry into another host, these rapidly multiplies within the gastrointestinal tract. All it takes for entry into the human body is via a break in the skin (through the bite wound, or open wounds) or via mucous membranes and even the conjunctiva. The consequences of multiplication include destruction of cells, inflammation, and consequently fibrosis, and these could even transform into a progressive disease as time goes by.

Unfortunately the large percentage of those harboring the parasite is asymptomatic. Infection is frequently followed by an acute stage which can last for one or two months in children, and common manifestations specific to the site of entry. If in the eye, clinical features would include the specific Romaña's sign composed of unilateral edema, lymphadenopathy, and conjunctivitis. If through the skin, a condition such as chagoma is present (also recognized as a swelling with local lymphadenopathy). Other manifestations include fever, headache and malaise, as well as generalized lymphadenopathy.

When Chagas' disease becomes chronic, it extends to affect the cardiac and smooth muscle function. Once it affects the smooth muscles especially that in the colon, it is most likely to result to megaesophagus or megacolon. It is then accompanied with difficulty in swallowing, regurgitation of gastric contents with subsequent aspiration into the lungs, abdominal pain, and constipation.

There are several measures used nowadays in the prevention and control of this disease, including the use of pyrethroid insecticides. This is also a reason for the extensive screening of blood donors prior to use of blood for transfusions.

>> Parasitic infestations - Giardiasis >>

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