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Definition

Chagas disease also known as Trypanosomiasis is an infectious inflammatory disease caused by a parasite found in the feces of the triatomine or reduviid bug , which is very common in Latin America and the southern United States as well.

Symptoms

Symptoms pretty much range from mild and acute to severe, and patients usually do not detect symptoms till the disease hits a long-lasting chronic stage.

Acute phase - this usually lasts for weeks or months, almost symptom free. Typical but mild symptoms that may show up include the following:

  • Fever
  • Swelling around the infection, eyelids and glands
  • Fatigue
  • Body ache and headache
  • Rashes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged liver or spleen

Acute symptoms usually go away on their own but in some cases if left untreated, they advance to the chronic phase.

Chronic phase - this phase may never show up or may show up 10 to 20 years after the first infection. Typical symptoms in severe cases include the following:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Congestive heart failure and sudden cardiac arrest
  • Abdominal pain or constipation due to enlarged colon
  • Difficulty in swallowing food due to enlarged esophagus

Risk Factors

This disease, most often diagnosed in children can literally infect anyone:

  • Living in structures built with mud, adobe or thatch in rural impoverished areas of Latin America where the triatomine bugs are rampant
  • Travelling to a high-risk area of Chagas disease
  • Blood transfusion or organ transplant from someone with Chagas infection

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask for the following:

  • A physical examination to check signs and symptoms of the disease or any risk to the disease
  • Blood tests to confirm the presence of the disease in the bloodstream
  • Additional tests like ECG, Chest and Abdominal X-ray, Echocardiogram and Upper endoscopy to check the stage of the disease and the resultant complications

Treatment

Prevention of infection is always ideal. The first line of treatment is to kill the parasite in acute infection and then, go about managing signs and symptoms in later stages. If left untreated, it can cause severe heart and digestive problems.

Treatment for heart-related complications include medications, pacemaker or any support device to regulate the rhythm of the heart, surgery or a transplant. Treatment for digestive-related complications include a diet change, medications, corticosteroids and surgery in extreme cases.

Medications during the acute phase may benefit the patient, though not so much in the chronic stage. The medications during the chronic stage don't cure the disease but helps slow the progression of the disease and complications that come with it.

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