The most common symptoms of giardiasis are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, along with flatulence, bloating, and belching. More severe symptoms include fatigue, abdominal distension and cramping, and persistent headaches. It’s easy for people to confuse these symptoms with those of an ordinary stomach virus, particularly at first, but in most cases they’re much more severe and long-lasting, and often also require medical attention in order to dissipate. Giardiasis is typically caused by a parasite, and the infection doesn’t always go away on its own the way most stomach bugs will.
Symptoms of giardiasis are largely gastrointestinal, which means that they are typically centered in a person’s digestive tract. The infection often impacts the intestines’ ability to take nutrients out of food and waste products, which can lead to loose, watery stools, or stools with a greasy consistency. Explosive, burning diarrhea is also common, but somewhat confusingly constipation may be a problem, too. Victims often alternate between intense bouts of diarrhea and periods in which they are unable to move their bowels. Most of the time this is owing to the parasite’s disruption of normal intestinal and colon function.
Gas accumulation is also common. A small amount of gas is common in the digestive tract as a byproduct of nutrient and waste breakdown, but people who are infected with giardiasis often have more gas then normal. This can lead to painful bloating and foul-smelling flatulence. A victim may also belch or burp repeatedly, which often causes bad breath. Depending on the severity of the infection, these symptoms may last anywhere from two to ten days.
In severe cases people may also experience intense stomach cramps and tenderness, often on account of disrupted acid levels in the digestive tract. Vomiting, either due to stomach upset or pain, is common, too, as are feelings of severe indigestion and heartburn. In some instances the person may feel worse after he or she eats, and may also feel nauseated, lack an appetite, and feel unwell in general.
In Extreme Cases
These sorts of infections usually happen along a spectrum with some cases being relatively minor and others extreme. In the worst cases, people often experience a fever and fluid imbalance in the body that can lead to chronic headaches. When the infection is really bad the intestines can essentially shut down, or cease functioning; this often prohibits the absorption of nutrients from food, which can lead to weight loss, muscular degeneration, and dehydration.
Giardiasis usually requires medical attention, both in terms of diagnosis and treatment. Sometimes symptoms will go away on their own, but this is normally only the case when the initial infection has been minor. It’s hard to know this from the outset. Most of the time, symptoms that start out relatively mild get progressively worse until a person gets treated. Even people who seem to have recovered may still be carriers of the parasite, which means that they can transmit it to others.
Drug intervention is often the best course of action, particularly in serious cases. No drug works for all giardiasis cases, though, which makes relapse something of a frequent problem. Medical providers often start by prescribing an antiparasitic, which is any of a series of drugs designed to kill parasites. This is often given to the patient as well as anyone who may be in close contact with him or her. Rehydration tablets, intravenous salt solutions, and other stabilizing medications are sometimes also given.
Antidiarrheal medicines, however, should generally not be used because they can prolong the infection by creating a more “stable” intestinal environment where the parasite can grow and reproduce. The same is true for most ordinary cold and flu medications. People who suspect that they have become infected with giardiasis are usually advised to get a professional opinion and diagnosis before self-treating.
Prevention and Safety Tips
The best way to avoid infection is to keep the parasite that causes giardiasis, Giardia lamblia, out of the body, but this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. It is found in most parts of the world, in rural, urban, and wilderness areas alike. In most cases it is transmitted through feces; touching fecal matter and then touching the mouth or preparing food is one of the fastest ways it spreads. It can also be present in drinking water, though. Proper hygiene, rigorous cooking, and filtering or boiling water are some of the easiest ways for people to stay protected, particularly in regions where parasitic infections are more prevalent.