A systemic yeast infection is a potentially serious type of acute fungal infection. Species of the Candida genus normally live inside human intestines without causing health problems, but they may become active in people who take certain drugs or have weakened immune systems. A systemic yeast infection affects multiple sites in the body and can cause symptoms that range from muscle aches to skin rashes to dizziness. Antifungal medications are effective at treating most infections if they are administered in the early stages of the infection.
Candida fungi are present in almost all people. They tend to colonize moist areas in the body, including the gastrointestinal tract, mouth, and female vagina. People who are in relatively good health rarely experience major body-wide yeast infections. If infection does occur, it is usually localized, such as with athlete's foot, vaginitis, or oral thrush. A systemic yeast infection is more likely to occur in very young or elderly people, or individuals who have especially weak immune systems. AIDS patients and people taking immune-system suppressing drugs such as steroids or chemotherapy medications are at an increased risk.
The symptoms of a systemic yeast infection can vary widely, but most patients develop high fevers, headaches, and fatigue as infection spreads throughout their bloodstreams. Joint aches and muscle pains are common, as are digestive issues such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. An infection may cause very painful ulcers in the mouth and throat that make eating, speaking, and even breathing very uncomfortable. In addition, a large area of skin may become very dry, itchy, and flaky. Dangerously high blood pressure and extreme mental confusion are possible if an infection is not discovered and treated early.
Most systemic yeast infections can be diagnosed through careful physical exams and blood work. Blood is collected and cultured in a laboratory to confirm the presence of fungi and determine exactly which species is responsible. An endoscope may be used to observe damage in the throat or uterus. Magnetic resonance imaging scans and other diagnostic tests might be performed as well to see if the heart, lungs, brain, or other organs are affected.
A person who has major symptoms is typically hospitalized and given intravenous drugs and fluids. Antifungal drugs such as nystatin and fluconazole are given at high doses to combat pathogens and stop them from spreading further. Anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers may be given as well, depending on symptoms. Emergency surgery may be needed in extreme cases in which the kidneys, heart, or brain are severely compromised. Following hospital care, a person can expect a long period of recovery from a systemic yeast infection consisting of bed rest and daily medication use.