Home Health And Fitness Elephantiasis Or Lymphatic Filariasis: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Exercise

Elephantiasis Or Lymphatic Filariasis: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Exercise

24 min read

Elephantiasis or filaria

Elephantiasis or Lymphatic Filariasis can concern a lot of people. Whether you are a person living in tropical regions or traveling to such regions, you need to know all about it. The pictures of people with Elephantiasis can be disturbing at times and thus people often think is a very serious disease with no particular cure as such. There are a lot of doubts and questions regarding this condition. In the following article, we will try to answer all your questions about this condition. 

What Is Elephantiasis?

Elephantiasis is a disease in which the limbs of a person enlarges or hardens due to the swelling of the tissues. It is also called Lymphatic filariasis. It is mostly caused by a parasitic worm infection. It commonly occurs in tropical and subtropical regions. The geographical areas affected by this disease are Africa, Southeast Asia, and India. It is a Neglected Tropical Disease(NTD).  Elephantiasis or Lymphatic filariasis also causes Oedema, hypertrophy as well as fibrosis of the skin and the fibrosis of subcutaneous tissues. In this condition the Lymphatic vessels are obstructed which leads to swelling and hardening of the limbs. It mostly affects the lower half of the bodies but the affected area can be different depending upon the parasite which causes it.

Symptoms Of Elephantiasis Or Filariasis:

The most common symptom of elephantiasis or filaria is the swelling and hardening of the body part. The swelling mainly occurs in the arms, legs, breasts, and genitals. The legs are affected in most of the cases. The swelling and enlargement of the certain body can often be very painful. The swelled body can even obstruct movement, making mobility difficult. Elephantiasis can begin in childhood too. It is often accompanied by the skin condition called Elephantiasis Tropica which mainly affects the lower extremities. In this condition, the skin becomes dry, thick, darker than the other area and pitted. In most of the cases, ulcers also appear on the affected area. There are different kind of filarial worms that affected different body parts and cause a different kind of infection. In the chronic stages of elephantiasis, immunological infections are more likely to occur. Other conditions that occur along with lymphatic filariasis are arthritis, hyperpigmentation as well as hypopigmentation. When a person suffers from Elephantiasis, there are higher chances that he may also develop a condition in the eye called Onchocerca Volvulus, commonly termed as river blindness. Along with these symptoms, fever, chills and a secondary infection are likely to occur.

Causes Of Elephantiasis:

 Elephantiasis can occur at any age. Both the sexes, male and female are affected by this disease. It occurs in the tropical and the subtropical region. The areas where it is known to occur are India, Southeast Asia, Africa and South America. The underlying cause of this disease is a parasitic worm that is spread by a mosquito. There are three types of these worms:

In this condition, the lymphatic system of the body is affected by the worms. The Lymphatic system is responsible for the removal of waste and toxins from the body. During this condition, the Lymphatic vessels are blocked causing problems in the removal of wastes and toxins. As a result, these toxic materials are collected in the lymphatic vessels leading to swelling of various body parts. It is a kind of helminth reaction. This disease is caused by the complex interaction between the immune system, the parasitic worm and the bacteria carried in the body of the worm known as the Symbiotic Wolbachia.

The other causes include:

  • Living for a long time in tropical or Sub-tropical regions
  • Being highly exposed to mosquitoes and thus suffering from a lot of mosquito bites.
  • Living in unhygienic conditions.

Transmission Of Elephantiasis:

The transmission of the parasite that causes Elephantiasis is caused by mosquitoes. Firstly, the mosquito is infected by microfilariae when it bites an affected person. The microfilariae then mature into infective larvae inside the mosquito. When the mosquito bites another healthy person, it transmits the larva to the skin of the person. Then this larva travels to the lymphatic vessels and develops into an adult worm. This adult worm reproduces in these vessels and the cycle continues.

Diagnosis of Elephantiasis:

The doctor can ask for the medical history of the person. The symptoms are asked for which includes the enlargement and the hardening of limbs or other body parts.  A physical examination is done to check the nature of the swelling present. Blood tests are also done. These blood tests are done during night time because the microfilariae are active only at night. The blood samples are sent for examination where the professionals check for the presence of the parasites. I some cases the doctor may ask for X-ray scans as well as ultrasound test results.

Complications That Can Arise Due To Elephantiasis:

There can be various complications that can arise due to Elephantiasis. At times the hardening and the swelling can cause disability. At times, these disabilities may continue even after the disease has been cured. Such disability can cause hindrance in the daily activities too. People often experience pain in the affected area. A secondary infection may occur during elephantiasis. Emotional distress occurs in people as they get worried about their physical appearance because of the swelling in the body parts and are often anxious about how other people might see them.

Other Health Conditions That Occur With Elephantiasis:

There are various other diseases and issues that can occur with Elephantiasis. We have listed them all below:

  • Elephantiasis Nostras
  • Elephantiasis Tropica
  • Non-filarial Elephantiasis
  • Leishmaniosis
  • Grade 3 Lymphedema
  • Lymphogranuloma Vencreum
  • Proteus Syndrome

Treatment Of Elephantiasis:

The treatment of Elephantiasis depends upon the location of the affected person. If the patient is located in the Sub-Saharan regions of Africa, then he is treated with the anti-parasitic drug Albendazole and Ivermectin. If the person is from any other region such as India or Southeast Asia, then he is administered with albendazole and Diethylcarbamazine Citrate. Now, it is found that all the three antiparasitic drugs, Albendazole, Diethylcarbamazine citrate as well as Ivermectin can be used together for the treatment for the total removal of the causative parasite. There are other ways of treatment too.

  • Antibiotics can be used for the treatment of Elephantiasis. Although they can take a time period of 4 to 6 weeks to take effect. They cannot be used to treat a pregnant woman or children. Thus, its use in the treatment becomes limited making the anti-parasitic drugs more popular.
  • The hygiene of the affected region is very important. Washing of the affected area on a daily basis is very important. Take clean water at room temperature and soap. Lesions and scratch marks and cuts must be properly cleaned and disinfected. Toenail trimming is also very important. Wash the affected area but be careful not to use hot water for this purpose. Do soaping at the highest point and make sure to clean each fold of the skin. Use water to wash it off. Then pat dry with a clean towel.
  • The affected area must be elevated than the other body parts.
  • The cuts and the lesions on the affected area must be tended to in order to avoid another bacterial or fungal infection. Use anti-bacterial and anti-fungal creams to deal with such infections.
  • One of the ways of treatment is creating a lesion on the affected region.
  • Exercising can be done on doctor’s instructions.
  • In extreme cases, the doctor might decide to perform a surgery. The surgery might be a reconstructive surgery of the affected area and also for the removal of the lymphatic fluids from the affected area.
  • At times there might also be a need for psychological and emotional support in order to deal with anxiety and stress.

How To Prevent Elephantiasis:

There are few preventive measures that can be followed in order to evade getting Elephantiasis. Most of them involve avoiding mosquitoes as they are the carrier of the parasitic worms that cause this problem.

  • Avoid coming in contact with mosquitoes so that there are no chances of being bitten.
  • Use mosquito nets in order to avoid mosquito bites at night.
  • Get rid of all the breeding placed of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes lay eggs over stagnant water. Thus, efforts should be made to make sure there is no stagnant water near the neighborhood. One can put oil over the ditches to prevent the mosquitoes from breeding there.
  • When going to a region where a lot of mosquitoes are present, cover your entire body. Wear full-sleeved shirts and full pants or jeans.
  • Always put on insect repellent creams in order to avoid mosquito bite.
  • One can take Albendazole, Ivermectin and Diethylcarbamazine citrate as a preventive measure.

There are not many chances of getting affected by Elephantiasis if you are visiting the tropical or sub-tropical region for a short visit.

Mass deworming programs are carried out by the World Health Organisation(WHO) to uproot this disease completely from the face of the earth. In this program, a large number of people are administered an annual dose of Albendazole, Ivermectin and Diethylcarbamazine Citrate. As a result, the number of cases will automatically decrease as the number of hosts that may manifest this disease decrease.

Side Effects Of Treatment Of Elephantiasis:

After a therapy of twenty-four hours or forty-eight hours, the person might feel nauseous, have a fever and also get chills. These effects are because of the deadly effect of the worms inside the body and not because of any allergic reactions. At times, elephantiasis can lead to the disability of various body parts which may take a very long time to get back to its original state.

Exercises For Elephantiasis:

There are a few exercises that can be done to improve the condition of Elephantiasis. It helps in improving the mobility of the affected organ and also helps in accelerating the speed of the treatment. Although, the doctor’s advice must be taken before heading into these exercises and each of the doctor’s instruction should be followed while doing these exercises so as to avoid any other issues. Some of the exercises that can be done to improve the condition are given below: –

  • Standing On Toes:

 Stand upon a flat ground with your feet together separated only by a few centimeters (15-20 centimeters) to maintain a balance. Now slowly try to take your heels off the ground and putting the entire weight of the body on your toes. Now, hold this position for two to three seconds and then come down to the actual position. Repeat this for 5-15 times.

  • Pointed Toe Exercise:

This exercise is to be done while sitting down or lying down.  Spread your legs straight in front and maintain a straight back. Now Slowly point your toe outwards stretching it away as much as possible. Hold this position for two to three seconds and then relax and come back to the normal position. Repeat this exercise for 5-15 times.

  • Circling Exercise:

Sit down or lie down to perform this exercise. Next spread your legs out, and then move your feet in a circling fashion. First, move it in a clockwise direction for 5-15 times and then in an anti-clockwise direction for 5-15 times.

Morbidity Management:

The chances of bacterial infection increase manifolds when a person suffers from elephantiasis as the lymphatic vessels are blocked.  As there are multiple skin lesions, the body becomes more prone to infections. Since the vessels are obstructed, the movement of the lymphatic fluids is very slow. As the movement of the fluids is slow, there is inflammation in various regions of the body. There are chances of repeated infection as the lymphatic system malfunctions. There are chances of multiple attacks on the body. Thus, staying hygienic and taking proper care of the affected area is a very important step in the treatment of elephantiasis.

Vector Control:

It is a supplemental strategy by the World Health Organization(WHO) to reduce Elephantiasis or any other infection that is caused or spread by mosquitoes. It includes spraying of insecticides like Anopheles and other indoor residual sprayings. It also includes personal protection.

We hope that you found all the answers you were seeking for. This was all about Elephantiasis. If you have more queries that need addressing, please address it to us in the comments section below. Feel free to present all your doubts and advice below. So, this was all for now from us at Live It Beautiful. 

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