Itching, burning, redness, soreness—think that candidiasis can’t hurt you? Think again. While milder forms of the fungus may affect the body in the digestive tract, mouth, (thrush) or vagina, (yeast infection), invasive candidiasis can be life-threatening, affecting the blood, heart, brain, eyes, bones and other areas. When candida enters the bloodstream, causing infection throughout the body, it is known as candidemia, which is common in hospital patients.
Causes and Symptoms
The fungus, candida, lives naturally on the skin and in the gastrointestinal tract. Most of the time it poses no threat to individuals. Due to an imbalance in the body however, candida can become overgrown causing infection. In those with compromised immune systems, or others who are hospitalized in a healthcare setting the risks for invasive candidiasis is much higher. It is possible for the deadly fungus to enter the bloodstream through an (IV) catheter, or during a surgical procedure. Medical equipment can also become contaminated with candida, as well as healthcare workers’ hands. Of the 150 species of candida, only about 20 can cause infections, however.
Individuals at risk for invasive candidiasis include:
- Persons with central venous catheters
- Intensive Care patients
- Individuals with a weakened immune system including those with HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy patients, and organ transplant recipients
- People undergoing treatment using broad-spectrum antibiotics
- Individuals with a low neutrophil (specific white blood cell) count
- Persons undergoing hemodialysis, or who have kidney failure
- Patients who have undergone gastrointestinal surgery
- Diabetic patients
- Symptoms of invasive candidiasis include:
- Damage to heart, eyes, blood, brain, bones
Fungi, in general are responsible for over 1.5 million deaths around the world. About 90% of fungal infections contracted in hospitals are attributed to candida. Over 40% of those with systemic candida albicans, (a species of candida) will die from the infection.
Treatment for invasive candidiasis includes a course of antifungal medication to rid the bloodstream of pathogens. Localized candida infections in the bones, joints, heart, or central nervous system may require further treatment.
Non-deadly Candida Infections
While candidiasis in the bloodstream can be lethal, many other types of candida infections are not. Among the most common are digestive tract infections, vaginal yeast infections, and thrush, or oral candidiasis.
Digestive Tract Infections
A small amount of candida in the intestines is necessary to break down food and absorb nutrients. When healthy bacteria in the gut diminish however, an overgrowth of natural candida in the digestive tract may occur. This may be caused from diet, alcohol consumption, stress, or antibiotics.
Yeast Infection in Men and Women
Genital candidiasis occurs in both men and women when normal levels of the candida yeast multiply due to changes in acidity, hormones, diet, or antibiotics. Damp clothing that traps moisture can also lead to a genital yeast infection.
Symptoms for women include genital:
- Vaginal discharge, (“cottage cheese-like”)
- Symptoms in men include:
- Rash on penis
Though a genital yeast infection is not considered a sexually transmitted disease, it can be transferred from a woman with yeast, to a male partner.
Candida in the Mouth or Throat
A fungal infection in the mouth or throat, known as oropharyngeal, or thrush occurs with an overgrowth of candida as well. When there is an imbalance in natural occurring yeast on the skin or mucous membranes, an infection may manifest several symptoms. Thrush occurs most often in infants or toddlers, or individuals with a suppressed immune system.
- White patches on the tongue or oral membranes
- Soreness or redness in the mouth, throat, or esophagus
- Problems swallowing
- Cracks in the corners of the mouth
Some researchers have also linked the candida fungus to depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and sinusitis.
Natural Treatment Options
While invasive candidiasis is a very serious medical condition that generally requires strong antibiotics from a healthcare practitioner, other candida/yeast infections may be prevented or managed through dietary changes or natural supplements.
By limiting sugar intake, adding yogurt to your diet, and taking probiotics you may be able to prevent some common candida infections. These measures may help the body maintain the proper balance and control of yeasts already present on the skin, or within the digestive tract.
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While candida lives on or in the body naturally, an overgrowth of the fungus can cause a host of infections and symptoms. These range from mild discomfort to life-threatening conditions. Natural dietary supplements help maintain a healthy balance of yeasts.