Candidiasis, which is also known as a yeast infection, is an uncomfortable condition that affects millions of people. This common infection is preventable, treatable, and curable.
Definition & Facts
Candidiasis is referred to as an infection that is caused by an overgrowth of naturally occurring yeasts that reside in and on our bodies. This is not usually a life-threatening condition. Candida albicans is the species of yeast, also known as a fungus, that causes candidiasis.
This overgrowth tends to initially affect the mouth, genital areas, rectum, and skin of both women and men. It can progress to the internal organs, gastrointestinal tract, and bloodstream if left untreated, in which cases it is considered invasive candidiasis. This can be more difficult to treat.
Symptoms & Complaints
- White coating on the tongue
- Geographic patterns on the tongue with related soreness
- Vaginal itching and vaginal discharge
- Rectal rash and rectal itching
- Skin redness
A more serious infection can spread into the esophagus, intestines, liver, spleen, and blood vessels. This occurs more often in people with weakened immune systems and those eating a diet that is high in processed foods and sugars. When the disease takes root deep inside the body, affecting internal organs, symptoms become more debilitating. Common manifestations and complaints of invasive candidiasis are:
- Headaches and brain fog
- Memory loss
- Chronic fatigue
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Mood swings
- Nausea and dizziness
An overgrowth of Candida albicans occurs commonly when taking certain medications. Antibiotics, especially, can contribute to Candida overgrowth. Antibiotics target both bad and good bacteria. As bacteria are killed off, yeast grows. Steroids and chemotherapy treatments can also increase the risk of fungal infection.
Diet contributes further to Candida overgrowth. Yeast feeds on sugar, and a diet that is high in sugars, processed foods, alcohol, and foods that convert to sugar easily contribute to the development of candidiasis. Examples of food that may contribute to candidiasis include processed cane sugar, white flour, white rice, pasta, and starchy root vegetables.
Diagnosis & Tests
A yeast infection can often be diagnosed by the presentation of physical symptoms in the mouth, genitals, and rectal areas. More difficult to diagnose is an invasive infection, which can be a medical emergency.
The doctor can order blood tests, clinical urine tests, and/or stool cultures to check for the presence of higher than normal levels of Candida albicans, as well as other invasive strains of yeast. Blood tests look for antibodies specific to an immune response to Candida.
Treatment & Therapy
Controlling and eliminating excessive yeast are approached in several different ways. There are over-the-counter and prescription antifungal creams and suppositories that target the affected areas of the genitals, rectum, and skin.
Prescription oral medications, such as fluconazole and nystatin, are aimed at eliminating yeast without killing other beneficial bacteria. As always, there may be side effects associated with both prescription medications and non-prescription formulations.
Probiotics may be recommended to replenish the beneficial bacteria and compete with the fungi. Yogurt, kefir, and naturally fermented vegetables are sources of probiotics. Eliminating sugars and the other foods that feed yeast can be helpful as well. Exercise, adequate sleep, and stress reduction may also assist the treatment process.
Prevention & Prophylaxis
Avoiding sex with a person while they have a yeast infection is a prudent preventative measure. Incorporating probiotic foods may help stave off the overgrowth of yeast. Avoiding the unnecessary use of antibiotics can help prevent candidiasis. Reducing stress is an important step for improving one's overall health.