Skip to Content

Can worms affect your mood?

Worms are not something most people think about on a daily basis. However, these creepy crawlers may have more impact on our mood and mental health than we realize. Let’s take a closer look at the ways worms can affect emotions and outlook.

What are worms?

Worms are invertebrates that belong to the animal phylum Nematoda. There are over 25,000 different species of worms, the most common being roundworms, flatworms, pinworms, threadworms, and tapeworms. Worms live in soil, water, plants, feces, carcasses, and even inside the bodies of other organisms.

While many worms are microscopic, larger parasitic worms can infect humans and animals. Worm infections are known as helminthiases and are quite common worldwide. It’s estimated that over 1 billion people are infected with soil-transmitted helminths like roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms.

How can worms affect mood?

Here are some of the ways worms may impact emotions and mental health:

Nutritional deficiencies

Parasitic worms can rob the body of vital nutrients needed for physical and mental wellbeing. For example, hookworms attach to the intestinal wall and feed on blood, causing iron deficiency anemia. This lack of iron can contribute to fatigue, irritability, and depression. Whipworms and roundworms interfere with protein absorption, leading to malnutrition. Deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals due to worms can take a toll on mood.

Toxin exposure

Worms release toxic waste products inside the body as they feed and digest. These toxins get absorbed into the bloodstream and can travel to the brain. Neurotoxins from worms may interfere with neurotransmitters that regulate mood, potentially increasing the risk of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.


The presence of worms triggers an inflammatory immune response. Chronic inflammation due to a heavy parasitic load can manifest in many ways, including fatigue, brain fog, and changes in temperament. Elevated levels of inflammatory markers like cytokines are often seen in depression. Worm-related inflammation may be an underlying biological cause of low mood and irritability.

Sleep disturbances

Some parasitic worms have a direct impact on sleep quality. For example, pinworms cause anal itching that can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Sleep deprivation exacerbates emotional instability, anxiety, and depression. Even minimal sleep loss can negatively sway mood.

Stress and embarrassment

The symptoms and stigma around parasitic worm infections can be significant sources of psychological stress. Itching, abdominal pain, and digestive issues from worms can affect daily functioning and quality of life. Some people may feel embarrassed about having worms and isolate themselves socially. Increased stress and social isolation tend to worsen mood disorders.

Common mood symptoms

Here are some of the most common mood symptoms and disorders associated with worm infections:

  • Depression
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog and poor concentration
  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Low motivation and social withdrawal
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of interest in activities

These emotional changes tend to resolve with effective medical treatment for the worm infection. However, proper mental health support may also be warranted to help manage symptoms.

At-risk groups

Certain populations are at increased risk for worm infections and associated mood disorders:

  • Children
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with compromised immunity (e.g. HIV/AIDS patients)
  • People in crowded living conditions
  • Residents of developing tropical nations
  • Communities with poor sanitation practices
  • Those working in contact with soil or animals
  • Travelers to endemic regions

Children are especially vulnerable to malnutrition and cognitive deficits from chronic worm infections impacting development. Perinatal depression can also result from parasitic infections during pregnancy.

Common worm infections

Below are details on the five most prevalent human worm infections that may affect psychological wellbeing:


  • Most common in children ages 5-10
  • Main symptom is anal itching, especially at night
  • Can cause restless sleep, irritability, anxiety
  • Spread through contaminated food, surfaces, bedding
  • Treat with anthelmintic medication like albendazole, mebendazole


  • Ascaris lumbricoides species
  • Global infection rate >1 billion people
  • Cause abdominal pain, wheezing, nausea, diarrhea
  • Spread via contaminated soil, food, water
  • Treat with albendazole, ivermectin, pyrantel pamoate


  • Trichuris trichiura species
  • Chronic infection linked to stunting in children
  • Symptoms include rectal prolapse, anemia, pain
  • Spread through soil exposure, poor hygiene
  • Treat with albendazole, mebendazole


  • Necator americanus and Ancylostoma duodenale species
  • Infection by larval skin penetration or ingestion
  • Cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, anemia, protein loss
  • Endemic in tropical, subtropical regions
  • Treat with albendazole, mebendazole, pyrantel pamoate


  • Taenia, Diphyllobothrium, Hymenolepsis genera
  • Spread by ingesting raw or undercooked meat/fish
  • Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss
  • Some species can cause vitamin B12 deficiency, neurocysticercosis
  • Praziquantel medication effective for treatment

Diagnosis and treatment

Accurately diagnosing a worm infection is the first step to resolving any associated mood or mental health issues. Stool analysis looking for eggs under a microscope is the gold standard for detection. Blood tests checking for antibodies can also evidence past or current infection.

Once diagnosed, anthelmintic drugs like albendazole, ivermectin, and praziquantel can effectively clear most worm infections with short course treatments. Supportive care like iron supplements may also be prescribed. For severe cases, antiparasitic medication may need to be combined with antidepressants and psychotherapy.

Lifestyle adjustments like improved hygiene, sanitation access, vector control, and cooked food can help prevent reinfection and reoccurrence of psychological symptoms after treatment.

Prevention tips

Here are some key ways to avoid worm infections that may destabilize mental health:

  • Wash hands regularly with soap and water
  • Cook meat thoroughly until no longer pink inside
  • Wash, peel, and/or cook raw fruits and vegetables
  • Drink only purified or bottled water in developing regions
  • Wear shoes outdoors in warm climates
  • De-worm pets and livestock regularly
  • Avoid contact with contaminated soil when possible
  • Follow vet guidelines for flea, tick, and heartworm medicine
  • Do not drink or swim in untreated water
  • Take prescribed preventative anthelmintics when traveling as needed


Worm infections are prevalent across the globe, especially in areas with poor sanitation and tropical climates. Parasitic worms can negatively impact mood and psychology through malnutrition, inflammation, toxins, interrupted sleep, and added stress. Mood disorders like depression and anxiety may manifest or worsen in the context of chronic worm infections. Vulnerable populations like children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals are most at risk. Prevention focuses on hygiene, sanitation, vector control, and prompt treatment with antiparasitic medication. Further studies elucidating the relationship between parasitic worm burden and mental illness will be valuable for improving diagnostic and treatment guidelines. With a combination of public health initiatives, medical care, and mental health support, the disability associated with worm-related mood disorders can be diminished worldwide.