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Candida albicans (or C. albicans) is the bacteria most often associated with vaginal yeast infections, but symptoms can vary greatly and even mimic other maladies, so how do you know for sure that C. albicans is the problem?
First of all, are you at risk?
The term “infection” is somewhat misleading when applied to C. albicans. The bacteria is not an invading pathogen, rather it occurs naturally in almost all humans. Symptoms arise only when populations of the bacteria have become abnormally large. This “blooming” of the bacteria is usually the result of a change in your bodies natural balance.
If you’ve recently been exposed to unusual physical or mental stress, had a change in diet or sexual activity, suffered from an illness or undergone steroid or antibiotic treatments, then an imbalance can exist in your body that allows C. albicans populations to bloom. (e.g., Most antibiotics will decimate L. Acidophilus populations which not only aid in digestion, but help to naturally control the growth of C. albicans.)
Difficulties in Diagnosis
Because the bacteria is present in most humans, and because the symptoms of a bloom can vary greatly, diagnosis can be a challenge. A clinical test may include the removal of C. albicans-friendly foods from the diet for several days to see if symptoms abate. These C. albicans-friendly foods include sugars and other simple carbohydrates, yeast products, and fermented foods.
Types of C. albicans Blooms
A vaginal yeast infection is one of the most common forms of C. albicans bloom, but blooms can also occur in other places. Thrush, for example, is a C. albicans bloom in the mouth. A bloom can even occur on the surface of the skin, especially at folds or joints that trap heat and moisture. The most dangerous bloom is a system-wide or “systemic infection”, often caused by a compromised immune system or a failure to properly treat one of the more local blooms.
On the skin
On the skin, a C. albicans bloom will appear as an intensely red rash, usually in the folds of the skin and extending just beyond. There will often be a softening of the skin. Itching will occur, most intensely at the edges of the rash which will appear somewhat scallop-shaped with some small patches just beyond the edge.
In the mouth
Thrush, a C. albicans bloom in the mouth and throat, is characterized by an initial burning sensation followed by white patches on the tongue and mouth, possibly surrounded by red, tender skin. If rubbed (e.g., with a toothbrush), the patches may bleed. A bad taste in the mouth or difficulty tasting food may also occur. Nursing infants with thrush may pass the bacteria on to their mothers causing a reddening, soreness, and possible burning sensation in the nipples.
In the vaginal tract
Most vaginal yeast infections are caused by a bloom C. albicans populations. Typical symptoms include an abnormal white discharge ranging from thin and watery to a chunky, cottage cheese-like consistency. There may also be redness and swelling of the vulva accompanied by itching or burning of the labia and vaginal tract. Both intercourse and urination may become painful.
In small populations, C. albicans acts like a yeast. The population remains localized and is easily controlled, but in a systemic infection, the bacteria has reached a level of population growth that enables it to act like a mold, sending long, root-like tendrils out into the surrounding tissues and even into nearby organs. The toxins produced by the bacteria start to significantly compromise the immune system, and symptoms become much more generic and life-threatening. Untreated mortality rates for systemic C. albicans infections have been estimated to be anywhere from 75% to almost 100%.
At this stage, symptoms can range anywhere from headaches, chronic fatigue, and irritable bowel syndrome to more sever symptoms that can mimic Crohn’s Disease, Lupus, and Multiple Sclerosis. Remember, the body’s immune system and organs are under attack, so symptoms will vary based on what parts of the body are most affected.