You Wanted to Know: Gallbladder Parasites

There are many causes and sources of stomach  pain. If you’re having stomach pain, more specifically  acute or chronic pain in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen, it may be coming from your biliary tract, which includes the tube that connects your liver, gallbladder, and pancreas to your intestines. It serves as a pathway for bile, the body’s fat digester, to access your food and help you absorb fat and other nutrients. However, because it has exposure to your intestines, which is exposed to everything that goes into your mouth, there’s a risk of infection, and sometimes, the visitors aren’t just bacteria! Marcia messaged me on Facebook with the following question:

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Clonorchis sinensis, also known as the Chinese liver fluke, is a type of worm, which is often found in the Far East, which includes countries like China, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam. However, there are a few rare cases that pop up in the United States. It’s the most prevalent worm parasite in the world. However, other parasites have been known to visit, including Ascaris Lumbricoides, Echinococcus Granulosus and Fasciola Hepatica. (I promise you they won’t get offended if you mispronounce) their names.

The worms may come from food or water; clonorchis usually comes from uncooked or undercooked fish. It makes its way through your intestines to your biliary tract, where it makes its new home. Most people who have it, don’t know it. However, it can inflame the area, causing a condition called cholangitis. It can also increase the risk of developing gallstones, and even a type of cancer, called cholangiocarcinoma.

It’s very hard to diagnose, as I’m sure you know, Marcia. They’re very small (about 1-2 centimeters long and only 3-5 millimeters wide), and hence, hard to find. The first steps usually involve looking for worms in the bile duct or the stool, but it is literally like looking for a needle in a haystack. However, there’s also a blood test available that assesses if you’ve developed antibodies to clonorchis. However, it’s not 100% accurate. Plus, it doesn’t reliably distinguish if you’re currently infected with clonorchis or if you had it years ago.

One of the most popular treatments is a special antibiotic designed to kill worms. They include praziquantel, albendazole or mebendazole. They have an over 90% cure rate. In addition to this, your doctor may need to drain your gallbladder if you’re in danger of developing severe cholangitis.

Marcia, it may seem scary to have a creepy worm inside your gallbladder. However, it’s a natural part of life. Our bodies are mostly bacteria! However, it’s important to talk with your doctor and watch for any problems or issues.