Tapeworms Found Inside Woman's Brain After Complaints of Headaches

A Texas woman suffering from months of debilitating headaches was surprised to learn that tapeworms had lodged inside of her brain, laying numerous eggs near the base, officials said.

Doctors made the alarming discovery after the 31-year-old Garland came in for treatment, complaining of nine months of severe headaches, nausea, dizziness, and even the beginning stages of blindness.

"Given her age… and her profile, I thought it might (be) a tumor," said Dr. Richard Meyrat, a neurosurgeon for Methodist Health System.

But after an infectious disease specialist at Methodist Dallas Medical Center consulted about the case recommended operating, surgeons found the cause of their patient's pain was far less common.

"Once in surgery, we found between six and eight sacs of larvae and removed them immediately," Meyrat said, noting the worms were found behind the woman's brain stem.

"She was sedated face down and we did an incision at the base of the skull removing part of her skull, splitting the cerebellum and right then could see the sacs at the base of the brain stem," Meyrat said. "Under a microscope we carefully removed all the sacs within a few minutes."

The woman likely contracted the parasites during a trip to visit family in Mexico two years earlier, where she may have eaten food contaminated with fecal matter, Meyrat said.

"The parasite traveled through her bloodstream and ended up in her brain instead of going through her gastrointestinal tract," he explained.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control report about 1,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized for tapeworm infections every year. But the discovery of a tapeworm inside a patient's brain was not the norm for Meyrat.

"It shocked me; it was certainly out of the ordinary, something I had not seen in a very long time, but I'm glad we got to her in time and could save her life," he said.

The woman was doing well after surgery and is not expected to have any long-term effects, Meyrat said.