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Yeast infections: have you got one?

Siski Green / 19 July 2016

Yeast infections are being blamed for everything from itchy scalp to digestive disorders. So how you can you tell whether you have one?

Oral thrush or candida
If you have a yeast infection in your mouth you may have a white coating on the tongue and back of the mouth.

Candida is the latin name that’s used to identify yeast infections and it’s likely you’ve already heard of candida albicans, which usually presents in moist areas such as the mouth or genitals.

What you may not know is that many people also believe it can proliferate in other parts of your body, such as your skin or stomach, causing a wide range of symptoms.

All medical professionals agree that Candida albicans can become a problem if it is allowed to flourish in the mouth or genital region.

Diagnosing candida

It’s fairly straightforward to assess if you have a yeast infection in these places and a GP will diagnose you without problem.

If you’ve got this yeast infection in your mouth, for example, you may have bad breath, white patches in your mouth and a white coating on the tongue and back of the mouth.

In your genitals you may experience itching and/or soreness, and a creamy white discharge (sometimes described as looking like cottage cheese).

Both types of Candida are easily treated with anti-fungal medication so see your GP if you are displaying any of the symptoms.

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Candida on your skin or in your digestive system

Some medical professionals also believe that Candida can flourish on your skin or in your digestive system too, causing a wide range of problems.

For example, on your skin (especially the scalp), it is thought to cause dryness, with itchy, flaky skin.

In your digestive system it is thought to cause many other symptoms as it could affect how your body absorbs nutrients, putting you at risk of deficiencies.

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How to tell if you have candida on your skin or in your digestive system

So who’s right? It’s impossible to say. Unfortunately, there is no 100% effective medical test to show whether you have an overgrowth of candida albicans in your digestive system or on your skin, so proving that symptoms are a result of such an overgrowth is difficult.

What’s more, many symptoms associated with a possible yeast infection in the digestive system could be the result of other disorders. These symptoms include hair loss, digestive problems (diarrhoea or constipation, bloating), as well as strong alcohol or sugar cravings, for example.

One way of assessing your own symptoms is to also look at possible triggers that could have begun a process of Candida proliferation in your body.

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Antibiotics and yeast infections

If, for example, you’ve taken antibiotics fairly often (more than once a year) it could be that your body has lost control of the balance that keeps Candida in check.

Antibiotics kill off immune cells (as well as the bacteria that you’re taking it for) which help keep your yeast populations at healthy levels, putting you at risk of excessive yeast growth.

If you need to take antibiotics always try to replace the ‘good’ bacteria in your digestive system by eating live yogurt or probiotics.

What’s more, if you’ve also suffered with yeast infections in your mouth or genitals, it’s not a stretch to imagine that the Candida yeast has also flourished in other parts of your body such as the skin or digestive system at the same time. So oral or genital thrush (Candida) could be considered another symptom to look out for.

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Possible candida triggers

Other possible triggers of a yeast infection can be oral contraceptives, or hormone-replacement therapy.

Similarly, wearing very tight clothing (so you raise the normal temperature between your legs), using perfumed sprays or powders or even wipes to clean your genitals, and even wearing a wet swimsuit for hours after a swim, can encourage the growth of the yeast in your genital area, leading to an infection there.

Diabetes also puts you at increased risk of oral and genital thrush.

Finally, those who theorise that candida can cause problems in the digestive system propose that a diet high in sugars (sweet foods, alcohol, as well as fermented foods such as soya, for example) also contribute to a worsening of symptoms. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.