Elephantiasis: Causes, Picture, Symptoms and Treatment

Elephantiasis is the problem that can cause swelling in your legs as well as arms. The parasite worms can lead to the hardening of the skin and the limbs of the different body parts. Therefore, your arms and legs may resemble look like an elephant’s legs and skin. The problem can also cause swelling of the sex organs. In women, the problem can cause swelling of the breasts. It is a condition that affects most people who live in the tropical as well as subtropical areas around the world. The problem also known as lymphatic filariasis spreads through mosquitoes. The issue causes swelling and agony in different parts of the body.

It is a problem affecting more than 120 million people around the globe. So, it is a common issue that triggers severe discomfort and agony. You need immediate medical treatment to deal with the issue. It has severe complications, including genital disease in men and swelling of legs (lymphoedema) in women. The problem cannot affect you when you take appropriate preventive measure. It is the health problem triggering havoc in your life as it restricts performing your everyday chores. Read ahead to know more about the medications and preventive options available to keep the issue at bay.

What Is Elephantiasis?

Elephantiasis, which is also referred to as lymphatic filariasis come under the category of NTD. Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) is a broad group of tropical infections caused by viruses, protozoa, bacteria, and helminths. It is most common in developing countries like Asia as well as Africa. The infection caused by threadlike worms can trigger destructive results in the human body. Nematodes (threadlike worms) are from the Filarioidea family, which makes its home in your lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system is the complex network of tissues as well as organs. It is significant because the lymphatic system protects the body from the diseases. It also regulates the fluid in your tissues.

In some of the cases noted around the world, the swelling occurs when your body tries to get rid of the worm from the body. It can trigger lymphatic filariasis infection due to the immune system trying to overcome the worm’s attack. In other cases, the bacterial infection causes the problem. Your body fails to stop the opportunistic bacterial infection due to its damage to the immune system. The secondary infections can lead to the hardening of the tissues as well as skin. It results in elephantiasis.

Symptoms Of Elephantiasis

It is a health issue that triggers several visible symptoms in the body. In most cases, it causes swelling of the body parts. So, the problem can lead to mobility issues. The swelling occurs mostly in regions like:

  • Genital regions
  • Legs
  • Arms
  • Breasts

Your leg is the most common area affected by elephantiasis. Your legs may resemble the elephant legs. It also causes severe pain and distress. Apart from the swelling, you can see changes in your skin texture. So, you can experience the following:

  • Dry skin
  • Skin tissue becomes thick
  • Ulcerated skin
  • Dark shade compared to normal skin tone
  • Uneven skin with bumps

Additional Signs

The problem mostly occurs due to the attack of your immune system. Therefore, you are more risk of other problems like:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Secondary Infection

Causes Of Elephantiasis

Elephantiasis is caused by parasitic worms, which spread through mosquitoes. But, for the effects to occur in your body, the infected mosquitoes must bite you repeatedly. It can happen only when you stay in places that have an overabundant population of infected mosquitoes. The following worms can trigger the problem:

W. bancrofti affects humans exclusively as it acts as the host for the infection. While B. malayi can infect animals along with humans. Your lymphatic system has a significant function in your body. It removes the waste as well as toxins from the body. The parasitic worms can affect the lymphatic system. So, it can become blocked and affects waste and toxin removal. So, the lymphatic fluid does not leave the body and backs up in the body. It results in the swelling of body parts and other adverse effects on the skin.

Risk Factor Affecting Elephantiasis Occurrence

Not everyone is at risk of getting affected by the problem. But, men and women who experience the following factors can find themselves at more risk of the problem.

Geographical Location

The condition is more common among people who live in tropical and subtropical parts around the world. So, people living in the following countries can face the problem:

If you live in the following countries for a long duration of time, you are at risk of getting affected by the problem.

Exposure To Mosquitoes

The infected mosquitoes can trigger the condition in your body. So, you are at high risk of elephantiasis when you get exposed to the infected mosquitoes.

Unsanitary Conditions

Unsanitary living conditions can promote the growth of mosquitoes. If you do not live in clean surroundings, then you face the high risk of the swelling in body parts due to parasitic worms. The unhygienic living situation can become the breeding ground for germs, parasites, and other external threats that affect your body.

Elephantiasis Diagnosis

When you feel discomfort while moving or experience changes in the skin texture, you need to see a doctor. It is better to seek medical help as early as possible to avoid the agony and discomfort associated with the problem. Your doctor can detect the presence of the parasitic worms with the following diagnostic techniques:

Physical Examination

The first line of detecting the problem is to check for the symptoms with the physical examination. During the examination, your doctor can ask you about your medical history. It is to eliminate other health issues that trigger similar problems. You also need to talk about your exposure to the infected mosquitoes. It will shed light on the actual health problem affecting you. Based on the diagnosis, your doctor orders blood tests.

Blood Tests

Blood Tests

The blood tests offer your doctor precise knowledge about the presence of the parasites in your blood. You or your doctor cannot see the parasitic worms with the naked eye. But, you can observe them through a microscope. So, your doctor orders you to take a blood test. The technicians send the sample of your blood to the lab to check it under a microscope. The blood sample is smeared on a slide, which is tested under a microscope. In most cases, the blood sample is taken at night. It is due to the fact that the worms become active during the night time. It is the cheapest and most practical test to test the problem.

Serologic Testing

It is another diagnostic technique that sheds light on the presence of the parasite in your blood. In general cases, your body produces antibodies to fight off the parasite infection. So, by checking the presence of antibodies can provide information on the presence of parasites. The blood sample assessment detects the issue. It is only performed by public health officials who monitor the parasite transmission in a particular region.

Imaging Tests

The swelling of in the different parts of the parts may occur due to the presence of other health issues. Therefore, to eliminate other underlying causes, your doctor can suggest different imaging tests. The imaging tests like x-rays and ultrasounds offer comprehensive information on the parts of the body that encounters swelling.

Elephantiasis Treatment Options

Depending on the severity of the issues, you need to undergo a different treatment option. It will alleviate the discomfort and prevent the issue from affecting your life adversely. The common treatment options available are:

Prevent Infections

Medication is mostly prescribed for people who suffer from active infection due to parasite worms. The medications can kill the worms in your blood and prevent the transmission of disease to others. But, it may remain unsuccessful in eliminating all the parasites from your bloodstream. The medications include:

  • Antiparasitic drugs like Albendazole, mectizan or DEC (diethylcarbamazine)
  • Antibiotics to prevent infections
  • Antihistamines to treat the allergies caused by the problem
  • Analgesics to get relief from the pain and agony

Manage Swelling

Everyone who suffers from elephantiasis may not require medication to curb the problem. It is true if you do not carry the worms in your system. But, you need to treat the symptoms triggered due to the problem. So, your doctor can suggest methods to get relief from the distress and skin infection like:

  • Wash the swollen areas on the body gently with soap and water daily. You need to keep the damaged area of the skin clean from dirt and other impurities.
  • Moisturize the skin to prevent dryness and other skin problems.
  • Elevate the swollen limbs as it improves the fluid flow in the lymph nodes.
  • Disinfecting the wound to avoid the secondary infection from occurring.
  • Exercise every day regularly to support your lymphatic system. You need to include the exercises suggested by the doctor to get relief.
  • Follow the instructions of your doctor to prevent swelling. One of the methods suggested by the doctor is to wrap the limbs.

Preventive Chemotherapy

Your doctor can suggest treatment using a combination of medication to prevent the spreading of lymphatic filariasis. You need to undergo the treatment proactively for a period of time. It is mostly suggested for people who live in an area where elephantiasis occurs commonly. It may not cure everyone who suffers from the condition. But, the preventive measure can spread transmission of the diseases to others. It successfully eliminates microfilariae, which the mosquitoes carry and pass from one person to another.


It is the treatment option suggested in extreme cases of elephantiasis. You need invasive surgery to remove the affected or damaged lymphatic tissue. In some cases, the doctor can suggest invasive surgery to provide you relief from the excess pressure in genital regions like a scrotum. You may need reconstructive surgery to the affected areas to ensure it gets back to the normal shape.

Emotional And Psychological Support

Apart from the treatment, you also need emotional support. The changes triggered due to the problem can affect your mental health. The problems include the change in your appearance as well as issues with your mobility. Therefore, you may find it difficult to live with the disease. It makes you dependent on others while you may also worry about your visual appearance. Therefore, it can result in anxiety and depression. You need to talk to your doctor about the support groups that offer you psychological support.

Gather as much information as possible from the different online resources. It will help you know about the problem in detail. You can take necessary action based on the information. You can also opt for individual counseling to cope with it. Therefore, get the proper support to deal with the mental issues triggered by elephantiasis.

Complication Due To Elephantiasis

When you ignore the problem and fail to get treatment, it can trigger life-long complications. Without medical treatment, the parasites can remain in your bloodstream for a long time. The microscopic parasite can affect your lymphatic system and trigger subsequent damage. Your lymph system plays an important part in your body. It is responsible for transporting the excess fluid from your body. It also transfers the protein to different parts of the body. The lymph system also fights off the infection in your body. When you face damage to the lymph system due to elephantiasis, it results in the fluid buildup. So, it can result in swelling of the tissue due to fluid accumulation. So, you can see the reduced immune function. It also causes several complications like:


Do you know that elephantiasis can cause permanent disability? It is the major cause leading to disability in people across the globe. The excess fluid buildup can make you unable to move the affected body parts. So, it makes it difficult to engage in day-to-day activities. You will find it difficult to perform household tasks. In severe cases, the disability you experience become permanent without medical assistance.

Secondary Infections

The damage to the lymph system can make your immune system weak. Therefore, people who do not seek treatment for elephantiasis can suffer from secondary infections. You can experience fungal or bacterial infections due to the issues in the lymph system.

Emotional Distress

The visual appearance can change with the problem. It can affect your self-confidence as you may think more about other peoples’ reaction to your appearance. Therefore, it leads to anxiety and depression. It can affect your mental health adversely and make your life hell.

Preventing Elephantiasis

You have no vaccination or complete cure available for elephantiasis. So, you need to prevent it. It will help you avoid the complications and discomfort you may suffer due to the issue. The following methods can help you avoid the disease from affecting you:

Vector Control

The mosquitoes carry the parasites like W.bancrofti, B. timori, or B. malayi. You can control it once you successfully control the vector or control the population levels of microfilariae. The population-based program to control the parasites includes:

Drugs To Lower Microfilariae Levels

You can take drugs to reduce the microfilariae levels in the bloodstream. It not only manages the symptoms associated with elephantiasis but also prevents transmission of the disease. So, it can successfully avoid the problem spreading from one person to another.

Spraying Insecticides

Spraying Insecticides

Another important step to control the vector involves using insecticides or larvacides. You can spray it depending on the vector population. It can the mosquitoes that help transmit the disease. So, use the insecticides around the house to prevent mosquito breeding.

Use Mosquito Nets

Use Mosquito Nets

Using mosquito nets can keep the infected mosquitoes from biting you while you sleep. You can also use nets sprayed with insecticides to keep the huge number of mosquitoes at bay. Or you can use insect screens around the house as a preventive measure. The use of screens or bed nets can prevent mosquito bites.

Wear Long Sleeve Dresses

You can prevent the mosquitoes from biting by covering your skin. The reduced exposure of the skin can limit the possibility of mosquito bites. Wear long-sleeved shirts and full pants to cover your legs and other parts to protect it from infected mosquito attack. It is the step that may not eliminate the lymphatic filariasis completely. But, it helps reduce your risk of getting the infection from the parasite.

Take Preventive Medication

It mostly occurs in the tropical and subtropical regions. So, if you live in the areas coming under the risky category, then you need to take medications. The preventive treatment can avoid the infection due to the parasite worms. So, take medications like ivermectin, albendazole, DEC (diethylcarbamazine) before traveling to infection-prone areas. But, people who travel to such location only for a short period of time never have to worry. It only affects people who stay in such locations for more than a few months.


Elephantiasis can spread through infected mosquitoes. So, when you can suffer from tropical disease when you expose yourself to mosquitoes in the tropical or subtropical regions. It makes people who live in a specific area more susceptible to the issue compared to the others. But, do not worry as it does not affect people who travel to the location for a short period. Only people who get bitten by the mosquitoes frequently for months can suffer from the problem. To prevent complications, you need to seek medical treatment as soon as you see signs or symptoms. Therefore, when you see swelling or difference in your skin texture, seek medical help. You can manage the condition successfully with proper medication, lifestyle changes, and psychological support. But, failure to get help can trigger severe complication including permanent mobility problems.

View Article Sources

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *