Watch for Symptoms of Systemic Yeast Infection

While yeast infections are usually limited to localized areas of the body—especially dark, moist areas like the genitalia, armpits, and, sometimes, the mouth—sometimes, either because of a compromised immune system or some other abnormality, Yeast infections can become systemic. Symptoms include infection of organs and other body tissues. Systemic yeast infection symptoms can also involve the heart, lungs, the skin, and even the joints, since the infection can cause symptoms similar to arthritis. This may seem odd, since most of us, female or male, associate yeast infections with nothing more serious than itching or slight burning, and sometimes a burning sensation when urinating. But systemic yeast infections and their symptoms are potentially much more serious and should not be taken lightly.

How Are Systemic Yeast Infections Caused?

Yeast is a microorganism that naturally occurs on the skin and in the digestive system. Other yeast spores occur in the air or are ingested with food. However, when the body’s acidic level (pH balance) is disturbed, yeast growth can become uncontrolled, resulting in infection symptoms. In a systemic yeast infection, yeast travels through the bloodstream to other tissues and organs. Most yeast cells secrete substances called mycotoxins that adversely affect body tissues. Usually the body’s immune system effectively limits the spread of yeast throughout the system, but for persons whose immune system is not working properly, either because of other illness, AIDS, or weakening through chemotherapy or radiation treatment, the immune system is not able to effectively combat the spread of the yeast. When this occurs, conditions such as the swelling of the esophagus (esophagitis), coronary disease, pain and swelling of the joints, asthma, and other serious illnesses can occur.

How Are Systemic Yeast Infections Treated?

Most doctors prescribe some form of antifungal agent to combat yeast infections. For topical yeast infections, over-the-counter antifungal creams or ointments can usually be applied and will halt the infection within seven days or so. But with a systemic yeast infection, where symptoms and ill effects are occurring in tissues and organs throughout the body, an oral, systemic antifungal is usually prescribed. If you are pregnant or nursing, you should probably not take these medications, since their safety for pregnant or lactating women has not been established. Changes in diet may also be helpful for treating systemic yeast infections, since yeast need certain nutrients in order to grow. By altering the level of these nutrients, it is sometimes possible to slow down the growth of yeast to permit the immune system to combat it.