Fortunately yeast infections with Candida albicans are very rarely life threatening and death due to an infection with Candida albicans has only been reported in association with people suffering from serious pre-existing disease which affects and weakens the immune system.
Therefore individuals with weakened or compromised immune systems must take all Candida yeast infections seriously and consult a doctor quickly. A yeast infection may also be a sign that immune system has deteriorated even further. Candida yeast infections are seldom life threatening. However, if you are not aware of the complications or if you do not seek treatment soon enough, the condition can lead to the progression of the localised infection to a systemic infection, which can be life threatening. This is common in individuals with immune system deficiencies, but not for the typically healthy individual.
Candida infections can develop into life threatening infections if the yeast gains access to the blood stream. The yeast can then spread throughout the body invade the internal organs and establish a systemic infection. Infection might include the brain, heart, kidneys, eyes, liver, genital tract and joints. Systemic Candidiasis is known as a disease called Candidemia or disseminated Candidiasis. This is a rare complication which has only been reported in immuno-compromised people such as cancer patients, transplant patients, patients with catheters inserted, or those people suffering from HIV whose immune system is not functioning properly. This form of Candidiasis occurs most often in people who have low white blood cell counts (neutropenia).
Systemic Candidiasis is very difficult to diagnose. The source of Candida isolated from the blood may be from a local infection such as in the mouth or from a catheter site, or from systemic infection of internal organs. Another problem is that Candida may only be temporarily present in the blood when an internal organ is infected. For these reasons a blood culture result is not always reliable and a positive result is difficult to interpret. Systemic Candidiasis, without prompt investigation and treatment, can be life threatening so it is critical for those people suffering from preexisting disease to get prompt medical treatment when they get thrush.
Yeast infections can cause other complications that can be life threatening. For example the discomfort caused by oral thrush may make it difficult to eat or drink. If this occurs for an extended period of time, hospitalisation may be necessary to re-establish fluid and nutritional levels within the body. This is often a problem in the very young and the very old. If a person with oral thrush has problems swallowing and/or develops chest pain, the yeast infection may have spread to the oesophagus and this can become quite serious and requires medical intervention. It is necessary to treat Candidemia and oesophageal yeast infections with systemic anti-fungal drugs prescribed and overseen by a doctor.
Usually other forms of thrush such as vaginal thrush or skin yeast infections do not require hospitalisation. However if symptoms do not improve with treatment, or if symptoms change, or if you develop nausea/vomiting, vaginal discharge accompanied with abdominal pain, fever, and chills, it is important to go and see a doctor. These symptoms are common with other medical conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease, kidney infections, and appendicitis and may not be due to the yeast infection at all. A correct diagnosis is necessary.
Pregnant women should see a doctor if they get thrush to make sure that the remedies they use are safe for both mother and baby.
Candida albicans is carried by about 80-90% of people, i.e. it lives on the body without causing infection. Candida infections can only establish if the body’s natural balance is affected and the immune system is weakened. Candida is an opportunistic pathogen which means it is only able to cause infections when conditions alter enough to become favourable for it to overgrow. This happens when other bacteria which make up the normal flora on the body are suppressed by things such as antibiotic therapy, steroid therapy, cancer therapy or hormonal changes such as with pregnancy. Yeast infections may be triggered by underlying conditions such as diabetes where sugar levels are too high or viral infections which affect the immune system. Examples of chemical triggers include the use of certain brands of washing powders or douches. Sometimes even tight jeans or nylon underwear can trigger a yeast infection.
Yeast infections are relatively common. However yeast infections with Candida albicans only become life threatening in those who are already seriously ill and have a very weakened immune system which is unable to fight off Candida if it enters the blood stream.