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Elephantitis or elephantiasis is a condition that is identified by excessive thickening of the skin and the tissue lying below it. The disease prominently affects the legs and the male genitals. In certain cases, the condition can cause some body parts, like the scrotum, to engorge to the size of a pumpkin.

Elephantitis can be found in about 120 million individuals throughout the world, especially in the residents of the subtropical and tropical regions. Other body parts that are affected by the disease include breasts, head, and trunk. Elephantitis is caused by podoconiosis or filariasis.

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The disease can be categorized into two main types, i.e. ‘Lymphatic Filariasis’ and ‘Non-Filarial Elephantitis.’ The condition can disable and disfigure an affected individual for life.

Symptoms of elephantitis

Elephantitis features numerous different kinds of symptoms which pose several difficulties in effective diagnosis of the disease. A lot of symptoms associated with elephantitis are similar to the signs elicited by other similar conditions. Most of the symptoms of elephantitis are not evident in the initial stages, but they become more noticeable as the patient becomes older.

A few of the major symptoms of elephantitis are listed below:

  • Swelling: It is the most prominent symptom of the disease. An individual affected by elephantitis will experience extreme inflammation of the affected body part. A majority of patients generally elicit excessive swelling of the lower body region such as the groin or the legs. Testicular elephantitis is one of the worst instances of the disease.
  • Pain: A lot of patients also suffer from acute pain in the affected area. This occurs as part of a natural reaction by the body towards the allergens.
  • Lymph node enlargement: Elephantitis patients also suffer from enlarged lymph nodes.
  • Perspiration: Suffers of elephantitis may perspire abnormally which can result in severe discomfort.
  • Fever: Patients may also experience cases of fever which occurs along with excessive sweating.
  • Headaches: Many affected people may also experience headaches. It is also the result of allergic reactions in the body.
  • Chills: Patients of elephantitis may also experience chills of the feet and hands which can cause the affected person to shake.
  • Ulcers on the skin: One can also notice the formation of ulcers on the skin.
  • Vomiting: Allergic reactions in the body can also cause the patient to vomit from time to time
  • Pain in the joints: Elephantitis can also lead to joint pain
  • Fatigue: Patients may also experience excessive exhaustion which can disrupt the daily life
  • Reddish streaks: The affected person may also develop reddish rashes or streaks on the legs or the arms
  • Abscesses: Many elephantitis patients may also experience formation of abscesses in the lymph nodes
  • Elephantitis balls: It is one of the most dangerous symptoms of the disease. Inflammation of the testicles can result in social isolation as well as lowered self-esteem. There is no way to hide or cover the testicles as they can swell up to the size of a basketball or a watermelon.

Causes of elephantitis

There are two main factors which are responsible for elephantitis:

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  • The first main cause of elephantitis is infection from mosquito bites. Infection of the lymphatic system by any of the 3 microscopic parasitic worms, i.e. Brugia Malayi, B. timori, or Wuchereria bancrofti can cause the disease. The above listed worms are transferred from an infected individual to another via female mosquitoes. After a mosquito which is a carrier of a filarial worm has bitten an individual, the worm makes its way to the lymph nodes and begins multiplying.With the passage of time, the worms grow into adult forms and cause inflammation of the lymphatic tissues. As a result the complete affected limb experiences swelling and grows to 2 or 3 times its original size.The inflammation is easily noticeable and difficult to hide. This disorder is called Lymphatic Filariasis and is one of the types of elephantitis.
  • Another cause of elephantitis is infection of the lymphatic system by chemicals. This form of the disease typically occurs in persons living in the tropical region and Africa. It is more prominent in those who walk in bare feet. The soil in these area are full of minerals like potassium and sodium.These chemicals come into contact with the exposed skin occurring under the feet and later ascend to the lymphatic tissues. The chemicals clog these vessels and result in an infection, eventually leading to the development of a condition called Non-Filarial Elephantitis.

Treatment of elephantitis

There are no effective methods to cure elephantitis. Treatment of the disease generally involves the below listed options:

  • Anti-filarial medications are administered to overcome the effects of the parasites that cause elephantitis. It may however be noted that these drugs are only effective on worms which are not fully developed.
  • Infections can be treated with antibiotics. However, these drugs only offer temporary relief from the effects of the parasites and do not completely eliminate them. The worms generally recur after about 12 months.
  • Severe cases of elephantitis may require surgical intervention

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