AskDefine | Define elephantiasis

Dictionary Definition

elephantiasis n : hypertrophy of certain body parts (usually legs and scrotum); the end state of the disease filariasis

User Contributed Dictionary



From elephas, elephantis, from ἐλέφας (elephas)


  1. A complication of chronic filariasis, in which nematode worms block the lymphatic vessels, usually in the legs or scrotum, causing extreme enlargement of the infected area.
  • Finnish: elefanttitauti elefantiaasi
  • German: Elefantenkrankheit

Extensive Definition

Elephantiasis /ˌɛləfənˈtaɪəsɪs, -fæn-/ [el-uh-fuhn-tahy-uh-sis, -fan-] is a disease that is characterized by the thickening of the skin and underlying tissues, especially in the legs and genitals. It causes certain parts to swell to the size of a beachball in some cases. ("Elephantitis" is a common mis-hearing or mis-remembering of the term, from confusing the ending -iasis -- process or resulting condition -- with the more commonly heard -itis -- irritation or inflammation.) Its proper medical name is "neurofibrome".


Elephantiasis is often caused by parasitic worms such as Wuchereria bancrofti, Brugia malayi, and B. timori, all of which are transmitted by mosquitos. Consequently, it is common in tropical regions and Africa. Obstruction of the lymphatic vessels leads to swelling in the lower torso, typically in the legs and genitals. It is not definitely known if this swelling is caused by the parasite itself, or by the immune system's response to the parasite.
Alternatively, elephantiasis may occur in the absence of parasitic infection. This nonparasitic form of elephantiasis, known as nonfilarial elephantiasis or podoconiosis, and areas of high prevalence have been documented in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan and Ethiopia. The worst affected area is Ethiopia, where up to 6% of the population are affected in endemic areas. Nonfilarial elephantiasis is thought to be caused by persistent contact with irritant soils: in particular, red clays rich in alkali metals such as sodium and potassium and associated with volcanic activity.
Also known as Lymphatic Filariasis which is caused by microscopic, thread like worms. The adult worms only live in the human lymph system.


The current first-line treatment of lymphatic filariasis is diethylcarbamazine. Medicines to treat lymphatic filariasis are most effective when used soon after infection, but they do have some toxic side effects. In addition, the disease is difficult to detect early.
Another form of effective treatment involves rigorous cleaning of the affected areas of the body. Several studies have shown that these daily cleaning routines can be an effective way to limit the symptoms of lymphatic filariasis. The efficacy of these treatments suggests that many of the symptoms of elephantiasis are not directly a result of the lymphatic filariasis but rather the effect of secondary skin infections.
Also, surgical treatment may be helpful for issues related to scrotal elephantiasis and hydrocele. However, surgery is generally ineffective at correcting elephantiasis of the limbs.
A vaccine is not yet available and is likely to be developed in the near future.

Genome deciphered

On September 20, 2007, scientists mapped the genome or genetic content of Brugia malayi - the worm which cause elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis). Figuring out the content of the genes might lead to development of new drugs and vaccines.


elephantiasis in Czech: Elefantiáza
elephantiasis in Danish: Elefantiasis
elephantiasis in German: Elephantiasis
elephantiasis in Modern Greek (1453-): Ελεφαντίαση
elephantiasis in Spanish: Elefantiasis
elephantiasis in French: Éléphantiasis
elephantiasis in Italian: Filariasi linfatica
elephantiasis in Lithuanian: Dramblialigė
elephantiasis in Dutch: Elephantiasis
elephantiasis in Japanese: 象皮病
elephantiasis in Polish: Słoniowacizna
elephantiasis in Russian: Элефантиаз
elephantiasis in Finnish: Elefanttitauti
elephantiasis in Swedish: Elefantiasis
elephantiasis in Turkish: Fil hastalığı
elephantiasis in Chinese: 象皮病
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