Many people suffer from fungal and yeast infections (candidiasis), ranging from superficial thrush infections of the mouth and genitourinary areas, to systemic yeast infections that can affect the whole body. Candidiasis is caused by an overproliferation of Candida yeasts, especially Candida albicans. Although symptoms can manifest themselves in almost any area of the body, systemic Candida infection originates in the bowel and is detected in stool samples.
Candida albicans is a fungal microbe found commonly in the gastrointestinal tract. Fecal samples tested for the yeast have found that as much as 90 per cent of the population has Candida yeasts in the bowel. In a healthy person this should cause no symptoms at all, as long as the digestive flora remains balanced. However, for those with lowered immunity--particularly the elderly or those in developing countries--it can cause serious health problems. Even in an otherwise healthy person, a lack of beneficial bacteria in the gut (as might be caused by a course of antibiotics) can allow Candida albicans to over-proliferate and cause ill health.
Systemic candidiasis originates in the small intestine, and typically it produces a range of unpleasant symptoms local to the digestive system. Common symptoms include food hypersensitivity or irritable bowel syndrome, so that any intake of food causes pain and bloating. It also commonly leads to unexplained diarrhoea. Other reported symptoms of systemic candidiasis include inexplicable tiredness, lack of energy and depression. Beyond that, sufferers might complain of any number of physical disorders, ranging from persistent skin rashes and chronic sinusitis to painful infection and discharge around the fingernails.
Although Candida yeasts are inevitably present in stool samples of affected persons, they are not actually visible in the stool, and they do not appear as a white discharge similar to oral or vaginal thrush. Candida fecal symptoms do not present a consistent picture, and they usually present as an apparently generic malaise, i.e. diarrhoea.
Candida infection has also been linked to the severe bowel disorder Crohn's disease. Crohn's sufferers might find blood in the stool, but this itself is not a symptom of Candida infection.
Chronic diarrhoea itself can present serious health risks for the immune-suppressed, the elderly, or children. A study in the Lancet in 1976 found that candida proliferation in the gastrointestinal tract resulted in chronic diarrhoea in the form of watery bowel movements combined with abdominal cramps. Another Lancet study, from 1991, found Candida to be a major cause of diarrhoea in the elderly. Candida-induced diarrhoea is also found to be a serious health risk in developing countries where HIV and AIDS are prevalent.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Once diagnosed, candidiasis can be treated effectively with antifungal drugs (for example, nystatin). However, it can be difficult to secure a diagnosis for systemic candidiasis, since its symptoms are often attributed vaguely to irritable bowel syndrome and left untreated.
A candida infection will show up in a fecal sample under laboratory conditions; it is not visible to the naked eye. Visible white particles or blood in stool are not attributed to Candida infection, and should be sent for laboratory tests.