What Is Giardiasis?

By kyle
Reviewed: Dr. Gromatzky
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Between the stomach and the colon lies the small intestine. It is so called because its diameter is much smaller than that of the colon. However, the small intestine is very long. If uncoiled, it would measure at least 9 feet in length. The small intestine is where most of the food you eat is digested and the nutrients are absorbed into the body.

Giardiasis is an infection with a parasite that affects the function of the small intestine. It is fairly rare in the United States, affecting pets more often than people. It is treatable with medications, and even without treatment, it usually runs its course within a few weeks. However, it can produce adverse gastrointestinal symptoms that are sometimes severe. Although death from giardiasis is very unusual, it can occasionally cause long-term complications.

1. Causes

Giardiasis is caused by a protozoan parasite, a single-celled organism called Giardia lamblia. Inadvertently swallowing these microscopic organisms can lead to an infection as they use a sucker to latch onto the interior walls of your small intestine. For this reason, they are also sometimes known as Giardia intestinalis or Giardia duodenalis after the specific area of the small intestine, the duodenum, where they are most often found.

Giardia lamblia exists in one of two life states. An individual specimen is called a trophozoite when it is active in the small intestines. However, once it exits the body, it goes inactive, encasing itself in a hard shell called a cyst. It can exist in this dormant state for months at a time. Once ingested by a new host, however, the acid in the stomach activates the cyst and the trophozoite re-emerges. As few as 10 trophozoites in the small intestine can produce symptoms of giardiasis.


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