Neurocystecercosis – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment


What is Neurocysticercosis?

Neurocysticercosis (NCC) is a parasitic infection of the central nervous system caused by the larvae of the pork tapeworm, Taenia solium. It is considered the most common parasitic disease of the brain worldwide and is a leading cause of epilepsy in endemic regions.

Causes of Neurocysticercosis:

Neurocysticercosis occurs when a person ingests the eggs of the pork tapeworm, usually through contaminated food or water. Once ingested, the eggs hatch in the intestines, and the larvae migrate to various tissues, including the brain and spinal cord, where they form cysts.

Risk Factors for NCC:

Neurocysticercosis (NCC) is a parasitic infection of the central nervous system caused by the larvae of the pork tapeworm, Taenia solium. Understanding the risk factors associated with NCC is crucial for prevention and early detection. Here are the key risk factors:

  1. Geographical Location:
  • Individuals living in or traveling to regions where NCC is endemic are at higher risk.
  • Endemic regions include Latin America, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, where sanitation and hygiene practices may be suboptimal.
  1. Consumption of Contaminated Food:
  • Eating undercooked or raw pork contaminated with the tapeworm eggs is a significant risk factor for NCC.
  • Pork products such as sausages, ham, and cured meats may harbor the tapeworm larvae if not properly cooked.
  1. Contaminated Water Sources:
  • Drinking water contaminated with tapeworm eggs can lead to NCC.
  • Poor sanitation practices, such as open defecation or improper waste disposal, contribute to water contamination in endemic areas.
  1. Poor Sanitation and Hygiene:
  • Individuals with inadequate sanitation facilities or poor hygiene practices are at higher risk of ingesting tapeworm eggs.
  • Lack of access to clean water, proper handwashing facilities, and sanitary disposal of human waste increases the likelihood of NCC transmission.
  1. Close Contact with Infected Individuals:
  • Direct or indirect contact with individuals infected with the pork tapeworm increases the risk of NCC transmission.
  • Household members or caregivers of individuals with intestinal tapeworm infections are at particular risk if proper hygiene measures are not observed.
  1. Occupational Exposure:
  • Certain occupations, such as agricultural workers, butchers, and food handlers, may have increased exposure to contaminated food or water sources.
  • Occupational practices that involve handling or processing raw pork products without adequate hygiene precautions can pose a risk of NCC transmission.
  1. Travel to Endemic Areas:
  • Traveling to regions where NCC is endemic, particularly for extended periods, increases the risk of exposure to tapeworm eggs.
  • Tourists or expatriates visiting endemic regions may be unaware of the risk and inadvertently consume contaminated food or water.
  1. Immune Status:
  • Immunocompromised individuals, such as those with HIV/AIDS or receiving immunosuppressive therapy, may be at higher risk of developing symptomatic NCC.
  • A weakened immune system may lead to more severe and widespread infection with the tapeworm larvae.

Signs and Symptoms of NCC:

Neurocysticercosis (NCC) manifests with a range of neurological symptoms, which can vary depending on the location and number of cysts in the brain. Early recognition of these signs is crucial for prompt diagnosis and treatment. Here are the key signs and symptoms associated with NCC:

  1. Seizures:
  • One of the most common symptoms of NCC is seizures, which may range from mild to severe.
  • Seizures can present as convulsions, muscle jerking, or loss of consciousness.
  1. Headaches:
  • Persistent headaches are a frequent complaint among individuals with NCC.
  • These headaches may be localized or diffuse and may worsen over time.
  1. Nausea and Vomiting:
  • Nausea and vomiting may occur, particularly in conjunction with headaches and seizures.
  • These symptoms may be intermittent or persistent.
  1. Cognitive Impairment:
  • NCC can lead to cognitive dysfunction, including difficulties with memory, concentration, and executive function.
  • Some individuals may experience confusion or disorientation.
  1. Visual Disturbances:
  • Visual symptoms, such as blurred vision, double vision, or visual field defects, may occur in NCC.
  • These disturbances can result from cysts compressing or irritating the optic nerves.
  1. Weakness or Numbness:
  • Weakness or numbness in the limbs, known as paresis or paresthesia, may occur if cysts affect specific areas of the brain responsible for motor function.
  • These symptoms may be unilateral or bilateral, depending on the location of the cysts.
  1. Behavioral Changes:
  • Some individuals with NCC may exhibit changes in behavior, mood, or personality.
  • These changes can range from irritability and agitation to apathy and depression.
  1. Other Neurological Symptoms:
  • Additional neurological symptoms may include dizziness, balance problems, and difficulty with coordination.
  • Some individuals may experience speech difficulties or language impairments.

Treatment for Neurocysticercosis:

Managing Neurocysticercosis: Treatment Protocol

Neurocysticercosis (NCC) necessitates a structured treatment regimen to address the parasitic infection and associated symptoms effectively. The treatment protocol typically involves a sequential administration of medications, beginning with steroids and antiepileptic drugs, followed by anthelmintic therapy. In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to address complications or remove cysts. Here’s an organized outline of the treatment sequence along with drug details:

1. Corticosteroids and Antiepileptic Drugs: Controlling Inflammation and Seizures

Corticosteroids: Dexamethasone or Prednisone

  • Dexamethasone: Initially administered at a dosage of 0.15-0.6 mg/kg/day in divided doses, typically starting at a higher dose and tapering over several weeks.
  • Prednisone: Alternatively used at a dosage of 1-2 mg/kg/day in divided doses, with a gradual tapering regimen based on clinical response.

Antiepileptic Drugs (AEDs): Phenytoin, Carbamazepine, or Valproic Acid

  • Phenytoin: Typically initiated at a loading dose of 15-20 mg/kg, followed by maintenance doses of 5-7 mg/kg/day in divided doses.
  • Carbamazepine: Started at a loading dose of 10-15 mg/kg, followed by maintenance doses of 15-20 mg/kg/day in divided doses.
  • Valproic Acid: Administered at an initial dose of 15-20 mg/kg/day, with dosage adjustments based on therapeutic drug monitoring and seizure control.

2. Anthelmintic Therapy: Eliminating the Parasite


  • Anthelmintic treatment with albendazole is initiated after the inflammatory response has been controlled with steroids.
  • Albendazole is typically administered at a dosage of 15 mg/kg/day in divided doses for a duration of 10-14 days.
  • Concurrent administration with a high-fat meal or fruit juice enhances drug absorption and efficacy.

3. Surgical Intervention: Addressing Complications

Surgery for Cyst Removal:

  • In cases of severe neurological symptoms or complications such as hydrocephalus or intracranial hypertension, surgical intervention may be necessary.
  • Surgical removal of cysts may be performed to alleviate pressure on surrounding brain tissue and reduce the risk of neurological deficits.
  • Surgery is typically reserved for cases where pharmacological treatment alone is insufficient or when complications arise.

Treatment Sequence:

  1. Initiation of Corticosteroids and Antiepileptic Drugs:
  • Dexamethasone or prednisone is started at the prescribed dosage to reduce inflammation and alleviate neurological symptoms.
  • Concurrently, antiepileptic drugs such as phenytoin, carbamazepine, or valproic acid are initiated to control seizure activity and prevent further episodes.
  1. Titration of Steroid and Antiepileptic Therapy:
  • Corticosteroid dosage is gradually tapered over several weeks based on clinical response and resolution of symptoms.
  • Antiepileptic drug dosages are adjusted to achieve optimal seizure control while minimizing adverse effects.
  1. Commencement of Anthelmintic Therapy:
  • After inflammatory markers have stabilized and seizure activity is under control, albendazole is introduced to target the tapeworm larvae.
  • Anthelmintic treatment is administered for a defined duration to ensure complete elimination of the parasite.
  1. Consideration of Surgical Intervention:
  • In cases of severe neurological complications or inadequate response to pharmacological therapy, surgical consultation may be sought.
  • Surgical removal of cysts can be performed to alleviate pressure on the brain and improve clinical outcomes.

Complications of Neurocysticercosis

Complications of neurocysticercosis can be severe and may include:

  • Hydrocephalus: Build-up of fluid in the brain, leading to increased pressure.
  • Meningitis: Inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
  • Stroke: Blockage of blood flow to the brain due to cysts or inflammation.
  • Cognitive impairment: Difficulty with memory, concentration, and other cognitive functions.

In summary, neurocysticercosis is a serious parasitic infection of the central nervous system that can lead to seizures, cognitive impairment, and other neurological complications if left untreated. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are essential for preventing long-term complications and improving outcomes for affected individuals.


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