Elephantiasis: Causes, Risk factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatments.


What Do You Mean By Elephantiasis?

Elephantiasis is the enlargement and hardening of limbs due to swelling of the tissue. The term elephantiasis is employed in regard to helminth infections whereas it may ask for a variety of diseases in which parts of a person’s body swell to massive proportions.

Elephantiasis is a tropical disease that is usually caused by parasitic worms that are spread through bites of the mosquito in which the skin appears to be thick, hard and it resembles an elephant’s skin. It is also characterized by edema, hypertrophy, and fibrosis of the skin due to the obstruction of lymphatic vessels which mainly affect the genitalia.

Although medically referred to as Lymphatic filariasis, the term elephantiasis is commonly used because its symptoms involve swelling and enlargement of the arm and legs. The WHO estimated that 120 million people worldwide are affected by the disease called elephantiasis.


The following 3 types of parasitic roundworm cause elephantiasis. They involve the following points:

i) Wuchereria bancrofti

ii) Brugia malayi

iii) Brugia timori

Wuchereria bancrofti worms cause 90% of all cases of elephantiasis whereas most of the others are caused by brugia malayi.

Risk Factors

Elephantiasis can affect anyone who is exposed to the parasites that cause elephantiasis. The risk of exposure is greater for the people who:

  1. Live long term in tropical and subtropical regions.
  2.  Are regularly bitten by mosquitoes
  3. live in unhygienic condition

The regions where these roundworms are found include:

  • Africa
  • India
  • South America
  • Southeast Asia

What Are The Symptoms?

Sign and symptoms are the detectable signs and experienced symptoms of an illness, injury, or any other condition. A sign for instance could also be a higher or lower temperature than normal, raised or lowered vital signs, or an abnormality showing in a scan. A symptom is something out of the standard that is experienced by the individual such as feeling feverishness, a headache or other pain.

Most people who are infected will not show symptoms as it damages the lymph system and kidneys. Those who do not get symptoms most commonly experience swelling of the legs, arms, breasts, genitals, etc. People with elephantiasis will have impaired immune function because of damage to their lymph system which tends to get more bacterial infection of the skin, causing it to become dry, thick, and ulcerated.

Other symptoms during these repeated bacterial infections include fever along with chills.

 How Is It Diagnosed?

To diagnose elephantiasis, a doctor will:

  • Take a medical history
  • inquire about symptoms
  • physical examination

A blood examination will be required to confirm parasitic infection where the roundworms are most active at night. So, the blood sample must be collected during this time in order to diagnose elephantiasis.

Alternative treatment may be used to detect the parasites but they may show negative results as the symptoms can develop years after the development of infection. X-rays and ultrasound are the other diagnostic procedure done in order to rule out other conditions that could be caused by the swelling.

How Is  Elephantiasis Treated?

People with an active infection take medications to kill the worm that is present in the blood. These medications help to stop the spread of the illness to others, but they do not completely kill all the parasites.

An antiparasitic drug that may be prescribed include:

  1. Diethylcarbamazine
  2. ivermectin( Mectizan)
  3. albendazole( Albenza)
  4. doxycycline

Other symptoms may be managed with the following drugs:

  1. antihistamines
  2. analgesics
  3. antibiotics

Not everyone with elephantiasis will need medication because they may no longer carry the worms in their system despite the presence of symptoms where people can manage the swelling and skin infection in these cases by:

  • Gently wash the swollen and damaged skin every day with soap and water.
  • moisturizing the skin
  • elevating swollen limbs to increase the flow of fluid
  • disinfecting wounds to prevent Elephantiasis: Causes, Risk factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatments.infections
  • exercising daily in order to support the lymphatic system as directed by a doctor
  • Wrapping the limbs to prevent further swelling according to the instruction of the doctor.

Surgery may be recommended by doctors in rare cases in order to remove damaged lymphatic tissue or relieve pressure in certain areas such as the scrotum. Some people with elephantiasis may wish to seek emotional as well as psychological support in the form of individual counseling, support groups, and online resources.