What Is It?
Candidiasis is an infection caused by Candida fungi, especially Candida albicans. These fungi are found almost everywhere in the environment. Some may live harmlessly along with the abundant "native" species of bacteria that normally colonize the mouth, gastrointestinal tract and vagina. Usually, Candida is kept under control by the native bacteria and by the body's immune defenses. If the mix of native bacteria is changed by antibiotics, the body moisture that surrounds native bacteria can also have subtle changes in its acidity or chemistry. This can cause yeast to grow and to stick to surfaces, so that the yeast causes symptoms. Candida infections can cause occasional symptoms in healthy people. If a person's immune system is weakened by illness (especially AIDS or diabetes), malnutrition, or certain medications (corticosteroids or anticancer drugs), Candida fungi can cause symptoms more frequently. Candidiasis can affect many parts of the body, causing localized infections or larger illness, depending on the person and his or her general health.
Types of candidiasis include:
Candidiasis causes different symptoms, depending on the site of infection.
Your doctor will ask about your medical history, including diabetes, cancer, HIV, and other chronic illnesses. He or she also will ask about your diet and about your recent use of antibiotics or medications that can suppress the immune system. If your doctor suspects cutaneous candidiasis, he or she may ask how you care for your skin and about conditions that expose your skin to excessive moisture, such as using rubber gloves.
Often, your doctor can diagnose thrush, cutaneous candidiasis, or vaginal yeast infection by a simple physical examination. However, if the diagnosis is uncertain, your doctor may scrape the surface to obtain cells to examine under a microscope or may culture a skin sample to identify fungus (yeast). A culture is especially helpful if you have a yeast infection that returns after treatment. In this case, the culture can help identify whether the yeast is resistant to usual antibiotic treatments. If your doctor suspects that you have an undiagnosed medical illness that increases your risk of candidiasis -- such as diabetes, cancer or HIV -- blood tests or other procedures may be necessary.
To diagnose Candida esophagitis, your doctor will examine your esophagus with an endoscope, a flexible instrument that is inserted into your throat and allows your doctor look at the area directly. During this examination, called endoscopy, your doctor will take a sample of tissue (either a biopsy or a "brushing") from your esophagus to be examined in a laboratory.
To diagnose deep candidiasis, your doctor will draw a sample of blood to be checked in a laboratory for the growth of Candida fungi or other infectious agents.
In otherwise healthy people who have thrush, cutaneous candidiasis, or vaginal yeast infections, Candida infections usually can be eliminated with a short treatment (sometimes a single dose) of antifungal medication. However, in people with AIDS or other diseases that weaken the immune system, Candida infections can be difficult to treat and can return after treatment. In people with weakened immune systems, candidiasis can be life threatening if it passes into the blood and spreads to vital organs.
In general, you can prevent most Candida infections by keeping your skin clean and dry, by using antibiotics only as your doctor directs, and by following a healthy lifestyle, including proper nutrition. People with diabetes should try to keep their blood sugar under tight control.
If you have HIV or another cause of recurrent episodes of thrush, then antifungal drugs such as clotrimazole (Lotrimin, Mycelex) can help to minimize flare-ups.
Treatment of candidiasis varies, depending on the area affected:
When To Call a Professional
Call your doctor whenever you have symptoms of candidiasis, especially if you have a chronic illness or a weakened immune system caused by cancer, HIV or medications that suppress the immune system.
Typically, in otherwise healthy people with superficial candidiasis, a properly treated infection goes away without leaving permanent damage. Candidiasis is unlikely to return as long as the person remains healthy and well nourished. In people with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems, episodes of candidiasis may be more resistant to treatment and may return after treatment ends. In people with deep candidiasis, those who are diagnosed quickly and treated effectively have the best prognosis, especially if their infection can be stopped before it spreads to major organs.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
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National Oral Health Information Clearinghouse
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Bethesda, MD 20892-3500