Although Candida albicans isn’t the only yeast on the block, it’s the most common form that leads to fungal infections once it grows out of control.
Most of the time, Candida albicans minds its own business as part of our natural microflora, the microorganisms that live in or on our bodies. It can be found in the:
- folds of skin and breasts
Candida albicans is always present, but is asymptomatic until something alters the microbiota and causes it to overgrow. This may be caused by:
We’re diving deeper into the four common infections caused by Candida albicans overgrowth and what to expect in terms of symptoms and treatments.
Urinary yeast infection
Candida albicans gets the gold medal for being the number one cause of fungal urinary tract infections (UTIs). Normally the infection starts out in the urinary tract, but it can make its way up to the kidneys.
Your risk of contracting a fungal UTI increases with:
- recent antibiotic usage
- having a weakened immune system
- having a medical device inserted, such a urinary catheter
- having a vagina
Symptoms and treatment
The bad news is there often aren’t any symptoms. If you do get symptoms, they may include:
- urge to pee often
- pain or burning when peeing
- lower abdominal or pelvic pain
- blood in your urine
If you’re not showing symptoms, treatment with an antifungal typically isn’t necessary. If you do have symptoms, fluconazole may be prescribed. According to a 2019 article, it’s the antifungal of choice due to its safety.
But, there are other things to take into account, such as whether the overgrowth is sensitive to or resistant to fluconazole. It’s always best to chat with your doctor about a treatment plan.
Genital yeast infection
When we think of a yeast infection, we automatically assume it’s geared toward females, but men can also get them. The odds are a bit lopsided though — 20 percent of women normally have Candida in the vagina without symptoms and, in the U.S., about 1.4 million outpatient visits are for vaginal candidiasis.
You’re more likely to get a vaginal yeast infection if:
- you’re pregnant
- you use hormonal contraceptives, like birth control pills
- you have diabetes
- you have a weakened immune system, from conditions like HIV or take medicines that weaken the immune system (steroids, chemotherapy)
- you’re taking antibiotics
The top cause of penile genital yeast infections is unprotected sex with someone who has an active vaginal yeast infection. Poor hygiene (especially in those who are uncircumcised), antibiotic use, and diabetes can also increase yeast infection risk.
Symptoms and treatment
Symptoms can be pretty uncomfy:
- burning feeling while engaging in sex or peeing
- itchiness or pain in or around genitals
- redness, irritation, or swelling around genitals
- abnormal watery/thick/white discharge
- rash around genitals
Following a diagnosis, your doc will likely prescribe an antifungal cream, pill, or suppository.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicine can also be purchased, but it’s best to confirm an actual diagnosis with a professional since symptoms can be similar to other infections that require different medication.
This yeast infection can be found in the mouth, throat, or esophagus if normal amounts of Candida multiply and create an infection.
Oral yeast infections are most common in infants under the age of 1 month or people with at least one of the following risk factors. If you:
- wear dentures
- have diabetes
- have cancer
- have HIV/AIDS
- take antibiotics or steroids
- take medications or have a medical condition that causes dry mouth
Symptoms and treatment
Symptoms of oral thrush can vary, but usually include:
- white patches inside the cheeks, on the tongue, or the roof of the mouth
- redness or soreness
- dry mouth
- loss of taste
- pain with eating and swallowing (esp. when it reaches the esophagus)
- cracking and redness at corners of the mouth
Once a diagnosis is confirmed, a doc will prescribe an antifungal. Mild to moderate infections usually require an antifungal that needs to be applied inside the mouth for about 7 to 14 days. Severe infections usually receive fluconazole.
Candidiasis of the skin (cutaneous candidiasis)
Another overgrowth of Candida, this time on the skin, can result in an infection. Thanks to the warm, moist conditions of the armpits and groin, you’ll likely notice the infection forming in those areas, although it can affect any skin on the body.
Causes of overgrowth on the skin can come from:
- wearing tight or synthetic undergarments
- poor hygiene or not changing your undergarments frequently
- taking antibiotics or steroids
- weakened immune system
Symptoms and treatment
Along with intense itching, other symptoms of a skin yeast infection include:
- red, growing skin rash
- infection of hair follicles that may look like pimples
Treating a skin infection with an antifungal cream or ointment will usually clear it up. If the infection is pretty large, you may need to take an antifungal pill orally.
If Candida albicans makes its way to your bloodstream, you could be at risk of an infection in your blood and other organs.
Neutropenia is a condition caused by lower counts of neutrophils in your blood, a type of white blood cell. This increases the risk of getting a Candida infection.
Undergoing chemotherapy or radiation for cancer, or having leukemia or other bone marrow diseases are at a higher risk.
Candida is linked to increased mortality in those with neutropenia. Testing to identify the exact Candida species is crucial in order to treat properly.
This condition happens when Candida reaches the bloodstream and creates an infection. The CDC says it’s a common cause of bloodstream infections in people who are hospitalized, often leading to prolonged stays, high medical costs, and even death.
Individuals at high risk of developing candidemia include those who:
- have spent prolonged time in the intensive care unit (ICU)
- have a catheter
- have a weakened immune system
- have recently had surgery, especially around the abdomen
- have recently been on antibiotics
- received TPN (food via your veins)
- have kidney failure or are on dialysis
- have diabetes
Those at a higher risk are often given an antifungal as a candidemia preventive measure.
Fungal endocarditis is a rare but fatal condition, with a mortality rate of around 50 percent. Endocarditis happens when an infection reaches the bloodstream and makes its way to the heart.
Risk factors include having:
- received TPN
- a weakened immune system
- prosthetic heart valves
- cardiovascular surgery
- prolonged use of antibiotics
- cardiac abnormalities
Fungal endocarditis is tough to diagnose since symptoms are similar to bacterial endocarditis (fever, chest pain, shortness of breath). It’s often treated with a combination of antifungal therapies and may require surgical removal of the fungus.
Candida can start as an infection in your blood or urinary tract, but spread to your eyes and cause a tissue or fluid infection. A prompt diagnosis followed by proper treatment is essential to avoid complications and blindness.
Key symptoms include:
- white or yellow discharge from the eyes
- swollen or puffy eyelids
- red eyes
- blurry or decreased vision
Treatment may include the injection of antifungal in the eye along with steroids to reduce swelling and inflammation. More serious cases may require surgery.
This is another rare fungal condition that can spread to the brain or spinal cord. It can happen to anyone, but having a weakened immune system due to health conditions, medications, or surgical procedures increases the risk.
Treatment requires high doses of antifungal meds, typically given via IV and orally.
Also called Candida peritonitis, intra-abdominal candidiasis is the inflammation of the inner abdomen. Like other infections, individuals who have taken antibiotics, have diabetes, or have had recent abdominal surgery are at increased risk.
A sample of abdominal fluid can confirm a Candida diagnosis, treatment may include drainage of infection or re-operation (if the infection is due to recent surgery). This can be paired up with antifungal medication which could potentially last up to 14 days.
Osteomyelitis and fungal arthritis
These conditions are infections in your bones (osteomyelitis) and joints (fungal arthritis aka septic arthritis). Along with a weak immune system and certain medical conditions, those who have had a recent bone injury or procedure are at risk of these conditions.
Symptoms often include:
- pain or swelling in the infected area
- difficulty bearing weight or walking
- stiff joints
Treatment may include IV medications and (if necessary) drainage of infected fluid or removal of damaged bone.
According to the CDC, in order for a candidiasis diagnosis your healthcare provider will need to:
- know your medical history
- know your symptoms
- perform a physical examination
- do some laboratory tests
To properly diagnosis, your doctor will likely take a blood sample or test an infected area of the body to determine if it’s a Candida strain.
Candida is a normal part of our microflora in the gut, skin, and vagina. But, certain circumstances can cause Candida to grow out of control and lead to an infection.
While most of the time these infections affect one specific area, such as the skin or genitals, there’s a chance that it could spread to your blood or other organs if left untreated.
If you suspect a Candida infection, make an appointment with your doc to get a confirmed diagnosis and proper treatment.