We’ve all heard about Candida or thrush, but what is it really – and can you catch it?
What is commonly known as “Candida” is basically a yeast infection, the most common of which is Candida albicans.
This organism is usually present in the body in small amounts and causes no problems, but when your body is out of balance and your immunity weakened it can become invasive and cause infections in various parts of the body. When Candida gets out of control it is called “Candida overgrowth”.
Candida can affect various parts of the body, and cause the following:
- Vaginal yeast infection or candida vaginitis: The infection commonly occurs as a result of self-contamination with yeast organisms from the rectal passage.
- Oral thrush: This affects moist surfaces around the lips, inside the cheeks and on the tongue and palate.
- Oesophageal thrush (Oesophagitis): Oral thrush can spread to the oesophagus which is the connecting passage between the mouth and the stomach.
- Cutaneous (skin) candidiasis: Candida can cause infections in areas of skin that are moist and receive insufficient ventilation.
- Balanitis: An infection on the glans of the penis and beneath the foreskin.
- Systemic candidiasis: A condition which only affects people with compromised immune systems, for example, those who are HIV-positive, have cancer or are on immunosuppressive drugs after organ transplantation. Candida fungi contaminate the bloodstream and spread throughout the body, causing severe infection.
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Candida is particularly prone to causing vaginal yeast infections. Under normal circumstances Candida is present in the vagina but is kept in check by lactobacillus bacteria. However, when the balance is disrupted a yeast infection may result, causing symptoms like itching and/or burning, a whitish discharge and pain or discomfort during intercourse.
Is vaginal thrush an STI or not?
Vaginal thrush is usually not spread from person to person and although sexual transmission is possible, it is unusual. Candida is therefore not regarded as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The yeast that causes thrush is present at all times and not acquired from another person.
There are other conditions like herpes, gonorrhoea and bacterial vaginosis, that have similar symptoms, and it is therefore important that the right diagnosis be made by a health professional.
The great imitator
As we have mentioned, Candida can affect different parts of the body and cause many different symptoms. It is called “the great imitator” and can mimic diseases like Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, gastritis and even mental illness.
Other common symptoms of Candida are:
- Athlete’s foot or toenail fungus
- Chronic fatigue
- Bloating, constipation or diarrhoea
- “Brain fog” and difficulty concentration
- Eczema, psoriasis, hives, and rashes
- Mood swings, depression and anxiety
- Sugar and carbohydrate cravings
Causes of candida
When your system is out of balance, Candida can become invasive and break down the wall of the intestine. This is called leaky gut. If you have a leaky gut, things that belong in the gut get absorbed into the bloodstream and end up poisoning the body.
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Under normal circumstances the healthy bacteria in your gut keep Candida levels in check. However, a few factors can cause the candida population to grow out of control:
- Antibiotics. (Antibiotics kill the beneficial bacteria in your gut.)
- Lots of refined carbohydrates, especially sugar
- A lot of alcohol
- Oral contraceptives
- A diet high in fermented foods
- High stress levels
How to treat Candida
After having made the diagnosis, your doctor will prescribe the necessary medication. Treatment of candidiasis aims to curb the growth of the organism that causes the infection. Antifungal drugs resolve most cases of common yeast infection, but natural remedies are also popular.
- Oral thrush is usually treated with antifungal medications such as nystatin or clotrimazole.
- Oesophageal thrush is usually treated with itraconazole or fluconazole.
- Cutaneous candidiasis can be effectively treated with a variety of topical antifungal drugs such as powders, lotions and creams.
- Vaginal yeast infections can be treated with topical antifungal medications administered directly into the vagina as creams, ointments or suppositories. These medications include nystatin and so-called imidazole derivatives (clotrimazole, econazole, fenticonazole, ketoconazole, tioconazole, terconazole and miconazole.) Oral antifungals are often easier to use but take a day or two longer to relieve symptoms than topical agents.
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WebMD: Candidiasis (Yeast Infection). http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/candidiasis-yeast-infection#1
Health24: Candida infection (thrush). http://www.health24.com/Medical/Vaginal-discharge/Overview/Candida-infection-20120721
Bodyecology:The Largely Unknown Health Epidemic Affecting Almost ALL Americans. http://bodyecology.com/articles/unknown_health_epidemic.php
SA Health: Thrush - including symptoms, treatment and prevention. http://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/health+topics/health+conditions+prevention+and+treatment/infectious+diseases/thrush/thrush+-+including+symptoms+treatment+and+prevention