The symptoms of cysticercosis vary from case to case and depending on the tissues infected and the number of the cysts. Cysticerci can develop in the muscles, brain, and/or spinal cord, eyes, heart tissue, liver, lungs, subcutaneous tissue and other tissues. If the tapeworm larvae infect the brain, abnormalities such as seizures and headaches may occur. In some cases of cysticercosis, cysts may develop under the skin, resulting in small lumps, which typically do not cause any additional symptoms. Mostly, the cysticerci cause only a few symptoms and degenerate on their own. Cysts in the eyes may cause visual impairment. Similarly, cysts in the spinal cord may cause muscle weakness or paralysis. Although, eventually, the larvae die, they result in a strong immune defensive reaction when they get exposed to the host immune system. Such reactions can cause severe complications, especially if the cysticerci are in the central nervous system and can be mild to fatal.

Sign and symptoms of neurocysticercosis

In many cases of cysticercosis, the central nervous system is involved. This condition is known as neurocysticercosis. But in most cases, no symptoms develop. However, some individuals may develop serious epileptic and neurological manifestations.

The symptoms of neurocysticercosis are based on the type of neurocysticercosis. The common symptoms of neurocysticercosis include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in vision
  • Hydrocephalous
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty in balance

The neurocysticercosis symptoms that vary depending on the type of neurocysticercosis based on the site of presence of the cysts are listed below.

Parenchymal disease: In this type, the cysticerci develop within the brain tissue and cause the following symptoms: Seizures, Headaches, Behavioural changes, Intellectual impairment, Hydrocephalus, Loss of the ability to coordinate voluntary movements (ataxia) and/ or Muscle weakness on one side of the body (hemiparesis).

Subarachnoid cysticercosis: In this type, the cysts develop in the subarachnoid space and present symptoms like: Chronic Meningitis (inflammation of meninges, membranes covering the brain), Seizures, Headaches and/ or Hydrocephalous.

Parenchymal and extra-parenchymal (cysts in meninges or subarachnoid space) cysticercosis can occur simultaneously in an individual.

A subtype of neurocysticercosis is the racemose cysticercosis, which occurs when the cysts accumulate in the base of the brain and cause coma, mental deterioration or life-threatening complication.

The cysts in the spinal cord occur rarely but may cause compression of the spinal cord or meningitis.

Heavy central nervous system infections can result in life-threatening complications like coma or stroke. The initial symptoms of heavy central nervous system infections include weakness, fever, and muscle pain (myalgia).

Ocular cysticercosis: In this type cysts occur in the eyes and cause the following Symptom: Eye pain, Loss of vision, Retinal detachment, parting of the retina from its underlying tissue. Sometimes, cysticercosis may only affect the eyes. This condition is known as isolated ocular cysticercosis.