Candidiasis (Yeast Infection): Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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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:

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:

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.

What are the risk factors for candidiasis?

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

  • Having diabetes

  • Taking strong antibiotics, especially for long periods of time

  • Wearing tight-fitting underwear, thongs, jeans, or other pants if you are a female

Reducing your risk of candidiasis

You can lower your risk of developing or transmitting candidiasis by :

  • Avoid douching

  • 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.

What are the possible complications of candidiasis?

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.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 9
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Yeast infections. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/yeastinfections.html
  2. Candidiasis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/
  3. Pappas PG, Kauffman CA, Andes D, et al. Clinical practice guidelines for the management of candidiasis: 2009 update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis 2009; 48:503.