- Hydatid cysts are caused by a parasite.
- They are very rare in the UK.
- You can also get hydatid cysts in other parts of your body, including your lungs.
- Treatment can be complicated, you will need to see a specialist.
Young dog tape worms live in sheep and other farm animals. Dogs can pick them up if they eat raw meat from an animal that had the condition. Once the tape worms are in a dog they can become adults and lay eggs. The eggs come out in the dog’s poo.
Humans can accidently swallow the eggs. For example by kissing a dog. Or not washing your hands properly before touching your mouth after handling dog poo.
Humans cannot get hydatid cysts from eating meat.
Most cases of hydatid cysts are picked up in rural areas outside Europe. Most UK cases are linked to sheep farming. Particularly in parts of the Outer Hebrides, Herefordshire and mid Wales.
Hydatid cysts start out very small. Most people only get symptoms years after picking them up.
Symptoms will be different for different people. The most common symptoms are:
- Tummy pain
- Feeling sick (nausea)
- Being sick (vomiting)
Some people also have hydatid cysts in their lungs. These can cause:
- A cough that lasts a long time (chronic cough)
- Feeling short of breath
- Chest pain
Hydatid cysts are very rare in the UK and the symptoms are similar to many more common liver conditions. So you will probably have tests to rule out a lot of other things before you can be diagnosed.
Your first tests will probably be a liver blood test and an ultrasound scan. These will give doctors an idea of how your liver is doing and if there are any cysts.
You will then have more tests to confirm exactly what the problem is. This might include an MRI or CT scan. And a blood test to look for antibodies against the parasite.
You can find out more about these tests in the drop-down boxes below.
Tell your doctor if you have travelled outside of Europe recently. Particularly if you have been to rural areas in South America, East Africa, Central Asia or China.
If you have symptoms of liver disease you should have a liver blood test. Some doctors still use the old term Liver Function Test (LFT). This test will look at several things in your blood. It cannot diagnose hydatid cysts. But it can give doctors an idea of how your liver is doing. And help to rule out more common liver problems. You can find out more about liver blood tests here.
An ultrasound scan is usually one of the first tests you have if you have a liver problem. It is quick and shouldn’t hurt. A wand is placed on your skin. The wand uses sound waves to get a picture of your liver and any cysts that are in it. You can find out more about having an ultrasound scan here.
You might have a blood test to look for antibodies against the parasite. This test is not good enough to say for sure if you have hydatid cysts. So it is used alongside other tests to make a diagnosis.
An MRI scan uses magnets and radio waves to build up a picture of the inside of your body. It does not use x-rays and is very good at looking at the soft parts of your body, such as your liver.
An MRI scan usually takes about half an hour. The scanner is a tube. You will lie on a bed that moves into the tube. The scanner can be very loud, so you will be asked to wear headphones.
A CT scan will take a series of X-rays and use a computer to put them together to make a detailed picture.
A CT scan takes about half an hour. The scanner looks like a ring doughnut. You will lie on a bed that will move in and out of the hole in the middle of the ring.
Treatment for Hydatid cysts can be complicated. You should be referred to a specialist. Ask to see a doctor with experience of dealing with hydatid cysts.
Your doctor will need to look at your scan results to see how big the cysts are and where they are. They will also want to know if you have cysts anywhere else, such as in your lungs. They will then discuss which type of treatment will be best for you.
Conversations about different treatment options can be a lot to take in. It is a good idea to take someone with you, make notes, or ask if you can record the appointment on your phone. This will help you to remember everything later. You also do not have to decide straight away. You can ask to have some time to think about it. Write down any more questions that you have.
Hydatid cysts are usually treated by being drained. But in some cases you will be given medicine to try and kill the parasite. Or told to “watch and wait”.
You can find more information about the different types of treatment in the drop-down boxes below. But every case is different so you will need to talk to your doctor to find out which treatments might work for you.
Some hydatid cysts are inactive. This means there is no parasite growing in them. These cysts do not cause any problems and they can go away without any treatment. You might hear them called “quiescent” cysts.
Doctors could recommend leaving these cysts alone. You should be given information about things to look out for. And might be asked to come back for regular check-ups.
Some people are given drugs to try and kill the parasites. This might be called “chemotherapy”. But this just means treatment with medicines. It does not mean you have cancer.
There are several different drugs used to treat hydatid cysts. You might be given a combination of different medicines to improve the chances of them working.
You might also be given these medicines before or after surgery to remove the cysts.
Ask your doctor about the different medicines available and what the side effects might be.
Also called PAIR. This stands for Percutaneous Aspiration, Instillation and Reaspiration.
Aspiration sclerotherapy might be used if your cyst has got very big and is causing symptoms.
You will be given a local anaesthetic and a sedative so that you are sleepy and do not feel anything during the procedure. In some cases, you might have a general anaesthetic. Talk to your doctor about which option will be best for you.
During the procedure a needle will be put through your skin and into the cyst. It will gently suck out the cyst fluid (aspiration). A liquid will then be injected into the cyst. This will cause scarring, pulling the sides of the cyst together to help stop it filling up again (sclerotherapy). The sclerotherapy liquid will be given a few minutes to work and then sucked back out again (reaspiration).
If you have lots of cysts, but they are all in just one part of your liver, a resection could cure your condition. The operation will remove the part of your liver with the cysts in.
Your liver has an amazing ability to re-grow. So, if the rest of your liver is healthy it should be able to get back to its normal size after a few months, but it is a big operation.
During the operation you will have a general anaesthetic. So, you will be asleep and will not feel anything. You will probably have to stay in hospital for a few days afterwards. This is to make sure that you are ok and have not got an infection. Talk to your doctor about risks and alternatives before deciding if you want to go ahead.
You will probably find it difficult to move around and do all your normal activities for a few weeks after the operation. Before you leave the hospital make sure you talk to your doctors about pain relief and what you should and should not be doing. If possible, have some help lined up for when you get home.
Treatment for hydatid cysts can be complicated and can go on for a long time. This can be very worrying. If you are having a hard time, it is important to look after your mental health. We have more information about ways to do this here.
You can also call our helpline on 0800 652 7330. You will be able to talk with one of our specialist liver nurses for advice and support.
There is no evidence that any foods or supplements will help with hydatid cysts. Trying to eat a balanced diet and follow alcohol advice will help to keep your liver working well even while you have the cysts.
Published on 10/08/2023
Review date 10/08/2026