Candidiasis (Yeast Infection): Symptoms, Causes, Treatments
What is candidiasis?
Candidiasis, commonly called a yeast infection, is an infection caused by a fungal microorganism, most often the fungus Candida albicans. Candidiasis is also known as candida and thrush. It can cause yeast infections in many areas of the body including:
Mouth (oral thrush)
Vagina (vaginal yeast infection, vaginal thrush)
Digestive tract (gastroenteritis)
The fungus that causes most cases of candidiasis, Candida albicans, normally lives in the mouth, vagina, and other places in the body. It exists in a certain balance with other microorganisms, including bacteria. However, some factors or conditions may cause an overgrowth of Candida albicans resulting in candidiasis. Candidiasis can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her child during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Candidiasis is treatable in generally healthy people. However, candidiasis is more likely to occur and can be more difficult to treat in people with weakened immune systems due to such conditions as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, or taking steroid medications or chemotherapy. In these cases, complications of candidiasis may become life threatening.
Recurring candidiasis infections can also be a symptom of a serious, undiagnosed underlying disease, such as HIV/AIDS or diabetes. Seek prompt medical care for recurring candidiasis infections including vaginal yeast infections or oral thrush.
What are the symptoms of candidiasis?
Symptoms of candidiasis differ depending on the severity of the infection and the area of the body affected.
Candidiasis symptoms that affect the mouth (oral thrush) include:
Lesions or sores that are raised, are yellow-white in color, and appear in patches in the mouth or throat and/or on the tongue
Patches or lesions that become sore, raw and painful, making it difficult to eat and swallow
Sore, bleeding gums
Candidiasis symptoms that affect the vagina (vaginal thrush) include:
Burning with urination
Thick white vaginal discharge that has a texture similar to cottage cheese
Candidiasis symptoms that affect the digestive tract (fungal gastroenteritis) include:
Recurrent candidiasis can be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as HIV/AIDS or diabetes. It is important to seek prompt medical care for repeated candidiasis, such as repeated vaginal yeast infections or oral thrush.
What causes candidiasis?
Candidiasis most often occurs when there is an overgrowth of Candida albicans in places in the body where it normally lives, such as the mouth and vagina. When Candida albicans grows unchecked, it throws off the normal balance of other microorganisms that normally live in the body.
Certain factors or conditions can result in an overgrowth of Candida albicans. These include:
Having a weakened immune system due to certain conditions, such as HIV/AIDS or taking steroid medications or chemotherapy
Having high blood sugar due to diabetes, which provides food for Candida albicans and encourages its overgrowth
Taking antibiotics. Antibiotics can kill “healthy” bacteria in the body, as well as bacteria that cause disease. When antibiotics kill the healthy bacteria, the normal balance of microorganisms in the mouth, vagina, intestines, and other places in the body is altered, resulting in an overgrowth of Candida albicans.
Candidiasis can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her infant during pregnancy.
A number of factors increase the risk of developing candidiasis. Not all people with risk factors will get candidiasis. These factors include:
Being very young or very old
Having a weakened immune system due to such conditions as HIV/AIDS or taking steroid medications or chemotherapy
Taking strong antibiotics, especially for long periods of time
Wearing tight-fitting underwear, thongs, jeans, or other pants if you are a female
You can lower your risk of developing or transmitting candidiasis by :
Changing tampons frequently
Cleansing the genitals daily with mild soap and water
Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet
Following your treatment plan for conditions such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS
Getting early and regular prenatal care when pregnant
Not using feminine deodorants or scented or deodorant tampons
Not wearing tight-fitting underwear, thongs, jeans, or other pants if you are a female
Seeking regular routine medical care
Taking antibiotics only when prescribed by your health care professional and finishing the medication exactly as directed
Wearing cotton underwear and changing it daily
In addition, nursing women who have nipple discharge or nipple or breast pain should notify their provider so they can be examined for candidiasis of the nipples, which could be transmitted to the mouth of a nursing infant.
How is candidiasis treated?
Treatment of candidiasis begins with seeking regular medical care throughout your life. This allows your health care professional to assess your risks of developing candidiasis and promptly order diagnostic testing for candidiasis and underlying conditions as needed. These measures greatly increase the chances of diagnosing and treating underlying causes of candidiasis in their earliest stages.
Candidiasis treatment includes:
Antiseptic mouth washes for oral thrush
Diagnosing and treating any underlying diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and diabetes. Treating the high blood sugar levels of diabetes may resolve a current yeast infection and is critical to minimizing the risk of developing recurrent candidiasis.
Eating yogurt or taking acidophilus supplements, which can help correct the abnormal balance of microorganisms in the mouth and digestive tract
Medications, including prescription topical or oral antifungal medications such as fluconazole
In many cases, oral candidiasis (oral thrush) in infants can go away within two weeks and may need no treatment other than watching the progress of the mouth lesions. Because oral thrush may be painful in the mouth and affect feedings, the pediatrician should be notified if symptoms appear in an infant.
Complications of candidiasis can be serious for people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or those taking steroid medications or on chemotherapy. In these cases, candidiasis can spread throughout the body, causing yeast infections in vital organs, such as the heart and the brain. This can result in critical, life-threatening complications, such as:
Seek prompt medical care if you are experiencing symptoms of candidiasis and you have diabetes or HIV/AIDS, are being treating with chemotherapy, or are taking steroid medications.