Yeast infection is most often caused by a species of the yeast Candida, most commonly Candida albicans, thus it is often referred to as candidiasis. Candida is a common cause of vaginal infections in women, and Candida may cause mouth infections in people with reduced immune function, or in patients taking certain antibiotics. Candida can be found in virtually all normal people, but causes problems in only a fraction. In recent years, however, several serious categories of candidiasis have become more common, due to the increased use of antibiotics, the rise of AIDS, the increase in the number of organ transplantations, and the use of invasive devices (catheters, artificial joints and valves)—all of which increase a patient's susceptibility to infection.
Although most cases of vaginal candidiasis are cured reliably, these infections can recur. To limit recurrences, women may need to take a prescription antifungal drug such as terconazole (sold as Terazol), or take other antifungal drugs on a preventive basis.
These infections can also recur, sometimes because the infecting Candida develops resistance to one drug. Therefore, a physician may need to prescribe a different drug.
Deep organ candidiasis
The prognosis depends on the category of disease, as well as the condition of the patient when the infection strikes. Patients who are already suffering from a serious underlying disease are more susceptible to deep organ candidiasis that spreads throughout the body.
Often clinical appearance gives a strong suggestion about the diagnosis. Generally, a clinician will take a sample of the vaginal discharge or swab an area of oral plaque, and then inspect this material under a microscope. Under the microscope, it is possible to see characteristic forms of yeasts at various stages in the life cycle.
Fungal blood cultures should be taken for patients suspected of having deep organ candidiasis. Tissue biopsy may be required for a definitive diagnosis.
Home remedies for vaginal candidiasis include vinegar douches or insertion of a paste made from Lacto-bacillus acidophilus powder into the vagina. In theory, these remedies will make the vagina more acidic, and therefore, less hospitable to the growth of Candida. Also effective for treatment is the dietary addition of berberis, thyme, grapefruit seed extract, and tea tree. Fresh garlic (Allium sativum) is believed to have antifungal action, so incorporating it into the diet or inserting a peeled garlic clove wrapped in gauze into the vagina may be helpful. The insert should be changed twice daily. Some women report success with these remedies; they should try a conventional treatment if an alternative remedy is not effective, or seek the advice from a licensed naturopathic physician.
Some prescription drugs, particularly antibiotics, may disrupt the bacteria normally present in the intestine and vagina, causing the unpleasant symptoms of constipation, diarrhea, or vaginitis. Because Lactobacillus acidophilus is one such regular inhabitant that can prevent bacterial or yeast overgrowth, consumption of yogurt or L. bacillus capsules or tablets has been found to be effective in decreasing the incidence of candidiasis.
Because Candida is part of the normal group of microorganisms that co-exist with all people, it is impossible to avoid contact with it. Good vaginal hygiene and good oral hygiene might reduce problems, but they are not guarantees against candidiasis. Other risk factors include low protein or vegetarian diets, a diet high in sugar, and use of antibiotics. There are also a number of ways vaginal candidiasis may be avoided:
- Frequent douching and use of feminine sprays and bath products should be avoided, as these products may disturb the normal vaginal pH balance.
- Drying the outside vaginal area thoroughly, and avoiding prolonged wear of a wet bathing suit, or damp undergarments.
- Wiping from the front to the rear, away from the vagina, after a bowel movement or urination.
- Avoiding sexual intercourse during treatment.
- Using unscented sanitary pads during menstruation.
- The use of cotton underpants, and the avoidance of tight fitting clothing.
Because hospital-acquired (nosocomial) deep organ candidiasis is on the rise, people need to be made aware of it. Patients should be sure that catheters are properly
maintained and used for the shortest possible time. The frequency, length, and scope of courses of antibiotic treatment should also be cut back.
Carlson, K.J., S.A. Eisenstat, and T. Ziporyn. The Harvard Guide to Women's Health. Harvard University Press, 1996.
Greenspan, Deborah, and John S. Greenspan. "HIV-related oral disease." The Lancet 348 (September 14, 1996):729-734.
Tobin, Marla J. "Vulvovaginal candidiasis: topical vs. oral therapy." American Family Physician 51 (May 15, 1995): 1715-1723.
Monistat.com: Yeast Infection Resource Center. http://www.monistat.com.
Kathleen D. Wright