Elephantiasis a disorder of the lymphatic system also known as lymphatic filariasis, is a painful and disfiguring disease that is caused by parasitic infection mainly caused by the nematodes (round worms). The filariodidea are transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitos, the larvae are deposited on the skin where they seep into the skin, they migrate into the lymphatic vessel developing into adult worms and causing a cycle of infection. It is characterized by enlargement and hardening of the upper and lower extremities (most cases it’s the lower extremities) because of the swelling of tissues. It affects almost all the people in all age group which is common in Africa, South America, India and South East Asia. The worms can live for 6 to 8 years and during this time, they can produce millions of immature larvae. The lymphatic system protects the body against infection and when the body is infected with the worms the immune system becomes weak and waste is not properly removed causing swelling of the arms and legs.

The second type of elephantiasis known as non-filarial elephantiasis (podoconiosis), is a chronic skin inflammatory disease caused by continual exposure to irritant soil (red clay soil, volcano ash containing alkali metals) which causes inflammation and swelling of the upper and lower limbs.

Stages of elephantiasis


It is caused mainly by three types of worms which are listed below;

  1. Brugia timori
  2. Wuchereria bancrofti, it is responsible for almost 90% of cases
  3. Brugia malayi which accounts for the remaining cases
  4. Symbiotic walbachia bacteria


The risk factors of elephantiasis are;

  1. Family history
  2. Age between 26-40 years
  3. Sex mostly male
  4. Living in unsanitary conditions
  5. Leg hygiene
  6. Living for a long time in tropical and subtropical areas
  7. Having a high exposure to mosquitoes


  1. Blocked lymph nodes
  2. Excessive swelling of any part of the body (most times the lower limbs)
  3. Enlarged lymph nodes
  4. Pain in the genitals (breast and testicles)
  5. Fever
  6. Skin ulceration
  7. White urine discharge
  8. Swelling of the liver
  9. Darkening of the skin
  10. Thickened skin tissue
  11. Elephantiasis balls
  12. Nausea and vomiting


Elephantiasis is diagnosed by a physical examination by the doctor, in which the body is assessed for excessive enlargement or swelling and also taking blood smear to be viewed under the microscope to view the roundworms if present, also the use of serological testing in diagnosis of elephantiasis.


The main treatment of elephantiasis is mainly parasitic treatment, but other treatments can also be done;

  1. The use of antiparasitic drugs like; mectizan, albendazole, diethylcarbamazine and ivermectin.
  2. Good hygiene and cleaning the affected areas with disinfectant.
  3. Elevation of affected areas
  4. Moisturizing your skin
  5. Regular exercises as requested by your doctor
  6. Use of analgesics e.g. paracetamol, ibuprofen and diclofenac
  7. Use of antihistamines
  8. Use of antibiotics e.g. doxycycline,amoxcycline and ciprotab
  9. Wrapping the limbs to prevent further swelling, as instructed by a doctor
  10. Reconstructive surgery is done in extreme cases to remove the affected lymphatic tissue 


The ways to prevent elephantiasis is by adhering to the following precautions which are listed below;

  1. Ensure that you maintain good personal hygiene
  2. Avoid mosquito bites especially if you are living in affected tropical and subtropical areas.
  3. Use of mosquito repellant and mosquito nets
  4. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants in areas with a lot of mosquitoes
  5. Wash your fruits and vegetable properly before consumption
  6. Ensure you exercise regularly to build the lymphatic system


If elephantiasis is not treated early it causes long term adverse effect and damage to the health which are listed below;

  1. Failure of kidneys
  2. Growth of tumor
  3. Impotency
  4. Disability
  5. Emotional distress
  6. Amputation

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