Definition

A vaginal yeast infection is caused by a yeast fungus. The fungus is called Candida albicans . While yeast is common in the vagina, it can cause problems when it grows excessively. This excess growth causes the uncomfortable symptoms.

Vagina

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Causes

Yeast grows in conditions that are less acidic. Vaginal fluids are most often mildly acidic but this can change. For example, acid levels can go down during menstrual flow. "Good" bacteria also helps keep yeast levels in check. Conditions that decrease the good bacteria will also increase the chance of a yeast infection.

Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of a yeast infection. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Situations that can cause hormonal changes:
    • Birth control pills
    • Pregnancy
    • Menopause
    • Steroid use
  • Broad-spectrum antibiotics
  • Diabetes , especially when blood sugar is not well-controlled
  • A compromised immune system, such as with HIV infection
  • Perfumed feminine hygiene sprays, deodorant tampons, or bubble bath
  • Tight jeans, synthetic underwear, or a wet swimsuit
  • Douching

Symptoms

If you have any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to a yeast infection. While typical of yeast infections, they may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:

  • Vaginal itching, ranging from mild to severe
  • A clumpy, vaginal discharge that may look like cottage cheese
  • Vaginal soreness, irritation, or burning
  • Rash or redness on the skin outside the vagina
  • Painful urination
  • Painful sexual intercourse

Diagnosis

Your doctor will take a history. A pelvic exam will be done. Any vaginal discharge will be tested.

It is important to see a doctor the first time you have symptoms. Other infections, including may have symptoms like those of a yeast infection. This can include bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis .

If you have had a yeast infection, you may be able to recognize the signs of a new infection. In this case, it is safe to use over-the-counter medications. Talk to your doctor if you have any doubt.

Treatment

Medications

Various antifungal medications are available as intravaginal creams, tablets, or suppositories:

The treatments come in a one-day, three-day, or seven-day pack. Some of these are over-the-counter. Other may require a prescription (eg, Terazol).

Your doctor can prescribe fluconazole (Diflucan) . Diflucan is an oral medication. It is a single-dose treatment. If you are pregnant, talk with your doctor before using any treatment.

If you are diagnosed with a yeast infection, follow your doctor's instructions .

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of getting a yeast infection, take the following steps:

  • Dry the outside vaginal area thoroughly after a shower, bath, or swim
  • Change out of a wet bathing suit or damp workout clothes as soon as possible
  • Wear cotton underwear
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing
  • Don't douche unless your doctor tells you to do so; it decreases vaginal acidity
  • If you have diabetes , try and control your blood sugar
  • Avoid bubble baths, perfumed feminine hygiene sprays, and scented soap
  • Avoid frequent or prolonged use of antibiotics if possible