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Vaginal yeast infection definition and facts
- Most vaginal yeast infections are caused by the organism Candida albicans.
- Yeast infections are very common and affect up to 75% of women at some point in their lifetime.
- The main symptom of a vaginal yeast infection is itching, but burning, discharge, and pain with urination or intercourse can also occur.
- Treatment involves topical or oral antifungal medications.
- It is possible for a woman to transmit a yeast infection to a male sex partner, even though yeast infection is not considered to be a true sexually-transmitted disease (STD) because it can occur in women who are not sexually active.
- Treatment of yeast infection in men, like in women, involves antifungal medications.
- Keeping the vaginal area dry and avoiding irritating chemicals can help prevent yeast infections in women. Consuming foods with probiotics also may help.
What is a vaginal yeast infection?
A vaginal yeast infection is an infection caused by yeast (a type of fungus). Vaginal yeast infection is sometimes referred to as yeast vaginitis, Candidal vaginitis, or Candidal vulvovaginitis. The scientific name for the yeast that causes vaginitis is Candida. Over 90% of vaginal yeast infections are caused by the species known as Candida albicans. Other Candida species make up the remainder of yeast infections.
Candida species can be present in healthy women in the vagina without causing any symptoms. In fact, it is estimated that 20% to 50% of women have Candida already present in the vagina. For an infection to occur, the normal balance of yeast and bacteria is disturbed, allowing overgrowth of the yeast. While yeast can be spread by sexual contact, vaginal yeast infection is not considered to be a sexually-transmitted disease because it can also occur in women who are not sexually active, due to the fact that yeast can be present in the vagina of healthy women.
Vaginal yeast infections are very common, affecting up to 75% of women at some point in life.
Signs and symptoms: How do I know if I have a vaginal yeast infection?
Symptoms can include:
The discharge has been described as having a cottage-cheese-like consistency.
Other symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include:
What causes a vaginal yeast infection?
Vaginal yeast infections occur when new yeast is introduced into the vaginal area, or when there is an increase in the quantity of yeast already present in the vagina relative to the quantity of normal bacteria. For example, when the normal, protective bacteria are eradicated by antibiotics (taken to treat a urinary tract, respiratory, or other types of infection) or by immunosuppressive drugs, the yeast can multiply, invade tissues, and cause irritation of the lining of the vagina (vaginitis).
Vaginal yeast infections can also occur as a result of injury to the inner vagina, such as after chemotherapy. Also, women with suppressed immune systems (for example, those taking cortisone-related medications such as prednisone) develop vaginal yeast infections more frequently than women with normal immunity.
Other conditions that may predispose women to developing vaginal yeast infections include
The use of douches or perfumed vaginal hygiene sprays may also increase a woman's risk of developing a vaginal yeast infection.
What may increase my risk of getting a vaginal yeast infection?
Women who have conditions that result in decreased immune function are more likely than others to develop yeast infections. These include women with cancer or receiving cancer chemotherapy, those with diabetes, and women taking steroid medications.
Pregnant women and women taking oral contraceptives are also at increased risk.
Taking antibiotics for any reason can alter the normal bacterial populations in the vagina and predispose to the overgrowth of yeast.
Taking steps to reduce moisture in the genital area can reduce the chances of developing a yeast infection. Wearing cotton underwear or underwear with a cotton crotch, wearing loose-fitting pants, and avoiding prolonged wearing of wet workout gear or bathing suits are all measures that can help control moisture, and may help reduce the chance of getting a yeast infection.
Which specialties of doctors treat yeast infections?
Primary care practitioners, including family practice physicians, internists, and pediatricians, may all treat yeast infections. In women, a gynecologist may also treat yeast infections.
How is a vaginal yeast infection diagnosed?
Even though the signs and symptoms of yeast infection may point to the cause, vaginal itching and discharge can be caused by other conditions including bacterial vaginosis and Trichomonas infections. To most accurately make the diagnosis, a sample of the discharge is tested in the laboratory, either by culture or by direct examination under a microscope, to identify the yeast organisms and to help rule out other causes such as bacterial vaginosis or sexually-transmitted diseases.
What home remedies can be used for the treatment of vaginal yeast infection?
Yeast infection is treated using antifungal drugs. Both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) remedies are available that are effective in treating vaginal yeast infections. Nonprescription drugs are the best home remedy for yeast infections, and they can cure most yeast infections. However, homeopathic methods have not been adequately studied for doctors and other health care professionals to recommend them, and anti-itch medications treat only the itching symptoms, but do not treat the underlying cause (yeast infection).
What over-the-counter (OTC) medications are used for the treatment of vaginal yeast infection?
Topical antibiotic (antifungal) treatments (applied directly to the affected area) are available without a prescription. These include vaginal creams, tablets, or suppositories. Regimens vary according to the length of treatment and are typically 1- or 3-day regimens. Recurrent infections may require even longer courses of topical treatment. These topical treatments relieve symptoms and eradicate evidence of the infection in up to 90% of those who complete treatment.
Examples of over-the-counter drugs for yeast infections include:
When are prescription medications used for the treatment of vaginal yeast infection?
Oral prescription medications, taken in pill or tablet form, can be used to treat recurrent yeast infections or infections that do not respond to topical treatment. Fluconazole (Diflucan) is typically used as the first-choice oral antifungal medicine.
Fluconazole also may be taken as weekly or monthly maintenance for women who have recurrent yeast infections, but it is first necessary to prove by culture that recurrent infections are occurring.
Oral antifungal medications should not be used by pregnant women.
Oral medications also have more side effects, including
What is the treatment for a vaginal yeast infection during pregnancy?
Yeast infections are common during pregnancy. Pregnant women who develop signs of a yeast infection should see a health care professional. He or she can recommend medications and treatments that are safe during pregnancy. Oral antifungal medications are not recommended for use during some states of pregnancy.
Can a man get a yeast infection from his sexual partner?
Most experts do not consider yeast infection to be a sexually-transmitted disease, but cases of irritation and itching of the penis in men have been reported after sexual contact with a woman with a yeast infection, so it is possible for an infected woman to spread the infection to her male sex partner. Treatment of male sexual partners is not considered necessary unless the man develops symptoms.
What are the symptoms of a yeast infection in men?
Symptoms in men may include itching, burning, and pain at the tip of the penis. Discomfort during urination can also occur. The area may appear reddened or irritated. Symptoms may resemble those of other diseases, including some sexually-transmitted infections (STDs), so testing should always be carried out to determine the cause of symptoms in men.
What is the treatment for yeast infection in men?
Treatment for men, like for women, is based upon antifungal medications. These may be applied as topical creams or taken by mouth in pill or tablet form.
How can vaginal yeast infections be prevented?
Because yeast can be present normally in the vagina of healthy women, not all yeast infections can be prevented. However, it is possible to take preventive measures that may reduce your risk of getting a yeast infection. These include always cleaning the genital area from front to back and changing out of wet bathing suits or damp clothes as soon as possible. Wearing loose-fitting cotton underwear can help reduce moisture and prevent yeast infections. Since chemical irritants can influence the balance of bacteria in the vagina, avoiding products with potential irritants like douches or scented tampons can also help. Regular baths or showers are an adequate way to cleanse the vagina, and douching is not recommended and may actually increase your risk of yeast infection.
What about recurrent yeast infections?
A recurrent yeast infection occurs when a woman has four or more infections in one year that are not related to antibiotic use. Recurrent yeast infections may be related to an underlying medical condition such as impaired immunity and may require more aggressive treatment. This can include longer courses of topical treatments, oral medications, or a combination of the two.
How can you protect yourself from contracting a yeast infection from your sexual partner?
Avoiding intercourse when a woman has symptoms of a yeast infection is the best way to prevent spreading of the infection.
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Krapf, JM, MD. " Vulvovaginitis.: Medscape. Updated: Jan 19, 2018.
Hetal, BG, MD. "Vaginitis." Medscape. Updated: Nov 12, 2017.>