Amoebiasis: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Amoebiasis, also known amoebic dysentery, is a condition in which your intestines becomes infected with the parasite Entamoeba histolytica or E. histolytica. E. histolytica is an amoeba found in water, soil and other damp environments.

Updated: August 17, 2020

Amoebiasis, also known as amoebic dysentery, is a condition in which your intestines becomes infected with the parasite Entamoeba histolytica or E. histolytica. E. histolytica is an amoeba found in water, soil, and other damp environments.

Causes of Amebiasis:

E. histolytica lives in the intestines of infected people and it can be passed out in their stools. The parasite can actually survive for weeks, or even months, in soil, fertilizer, or water that is contaminated with infected stool. If some other person drinks the contaminated water or eats contaminated food, they too can become infected. If the infected person follows poor hygiene practices such as not washing and drying their hands properly after going to the toilet, E. histolytica can be found on his hands. When they are in contact with another person or prepare food for others, the parasite can enter through another person's mouth and start to develop in their intestine. This way amebiasis can be transmitted. Transmission is also possible during anal sex, oral-anal sex, and colonic irrigation.

Symptoms of Amebiasis:

Most people who become infected with E. histolytica do not develop any symptoms or have mild symptoms. Symptoms may develop if the parasite causes inflammation of the lining of your intestine causing loose stools and stomach cramping. When E. histolytica gets into the bloodstream from the intestine, it spread around the body to the liver, lungs, and sometimes other organs. In this case, the infected people will have symptoms such as severe illness, abscesses, infections, and even death. If the parasite enters the lining of your intestine, it can cause amebic dysentery. Amebic dysentery will have frequent watery and bloody stools and severe stomach cramping.  When E. histolytica enters the liver, you have amebic liver disease include fever and tenderness in the upper-right part of your abdomen.

Diagnosis of Amebiasis:

  • A stool test can be done for several days to screen for the presence of cysts that generates from E. histolytica bacteria. 
  • A liver function test can be conducted to help determine if the ameba has damaged your liver.
  • The parasites may no longer show up in stool when it spread outside the intestine. An ultrasound or CT scan can be done to check for lesions on your liver. If lesions appear, needle aspiration can be conducted to see if the liver has any abscesses.
  • A colonoscopy may be done to check for the presence of the parasite in your large intestine or colon.

Treatment of Amoebiasis:

  • If  E. histolytica is found in your stool test, you have amoebic colitis and you should be treated with medication to kill the parasite. Amoebic colitis can be treated by antibiotics such as Metronidazole and tinidazole. Another antibiotic called diloxanide furoate is then used to get rid of any parasites that may still be living in your intestine.
  • A follow-up stool test is advisable to ensure that the parasites have been cleared.
  • You are at risk of dehydration if you have amoebic colitis. Drinking plenty of fluids is very important if you have amoebic colitis to replace the amount of water and salts that are lost in your stools. It is advisable to have special rehydration drinks that provide a good balance of water, salts, and sugar. The small amount of sugar and salt helps the water to be absorbed better from the intestines into the body.  You may be admitted to the hospital to give fluids intravenously if you become severely dehydrated.
  • If you develop fulminant colitis or a hole (perforation)in your bowel, surgery is required to remove part of the intestine.
  • If you have an amoebic liver abscess, the same antibiotics are used and are usually very effective in clearing the abscess in most people. Surgery is required to drain the abscess if a very large amoebic liver abscess develops or antibiotic treatment is not successful. Surgery may also be required if the liver abscess bursts or ruptures.


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