Rope worms are long, rope-like structures that sometimes occur in the intestines. According to some scientists, they are parasitic worms, but others believe that they are nothing more than a buildup of intestinal mucus and other debris.
In this article, we outline the two different theories on rope worms. We also discuss diagnosis, treatment, and when to see a doctor.
According to one scientific theory, rope worms are a type of parasite.
In 2013, researchers published an article outlining the five distinct life stages of a rope worm.
According to the article, which has not undergone peer review, the rope worm may begin forming in almost any part of the body, but it eventually migrates to the intestines. In the initial stages, the worm consists of slimy mucus. By the fifth and final stage, the worm resembles a single string of viscous mucus measuring approximately 1 meter in length.
In another 2013 article, the same research group states that the rope worm uses bubbles for propulsion and movement. The authors add that the bubbles create suction that helps the worm attach to the intestinal wall, preventing it from passing out of the body during defecation.
However, there are no other studies on rope worms, so it is not possible to confirm these theories.
A separate scientific theory states that rope worms are long strands of intestinal mucus and other debris. Similar to the parasite theory, there is limited evidence to back up this claim.
In a recent letter to the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, a group of researchers stated that misidentification of mucous membranes and other debris as worms is common. They specifically mentioned that rope worms are nothing more than mucus or other debris that is present in the intestines.
Rope worms may pass out of the body during an enema or another procedure to clear the intestines.
If rope worms are parasitic, it may be possible to diagnose them using standard procedures for identifying parasitic infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), doctors diagnose most parasites using one or more of the following tests:
As there is no scientific consensus on what a rope worm actually is, there is no standard treatment. It is also not clear whether treatment is necessary at all.
According to the researchers who believe that these worms are parasites, the treatment for rope worms is an enema using eucalyptus and lemon juice. Removing the rope worm reportedly reduces constipation and associated symptoms.
Assuming that the rope worm is a type of intestinal parasite, a person may benefit from antiparasitic medications, such as albendazole or mebendazole. The CDC recommend such medications for a different type of intestinal worm called Ascaris.
A person should talk to their doctor if they experience symptoms of constipation that do not go away. These may include:
- abdominal bloating or swelling
- painful or difficult bowel movements
- passing hard, dry, or lumpy stools
- passing fewer than two stools per week
A person should talk to their doctor if they think that they may have worms. Parasitic worms can cause the following symptoms:
The lack of consensus on what rope worms actually are means that it is not clear whether or how a person can prevent them.
However, in general, people can help avoid parasitic worm infestations by:
- Drinking clean water: When visiting areas with potential water contamination, people should only drink water from sealed bottles and avoid adding ice to their drinks.
- Washing the hands thoroughly: People should wash their hands after handling soil and after handling or working with animals.
- Swimming in clean water: People should swim only in chlorinated pools and avoid any body of water that may contain sewage.
Some scientists claim that rope worms are parasitic worms, while others claim that they are simply a collection of mucus and intestinal debris. There is very little scientific evidence to support either claim.
A person may pass a rope worm during an enema or other procedure to clear the large intestine.
Since it is not clear whether rope worms are parasites or long strings of mucus, there is no standard treatment for rope worms. It is also not clear whether treatment is necessary at all.