Vaginal yeast infection

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at February 10, 2016
StartDiseasesVaginal yeast infection

A vaginal yeast infection is a common type of vaginitis that causes irritation of the vagina and vulva. Most women will experience a yeast infection at least once in their lives. Most infections are easily treatable with medication.

Contents

Definition & Facts

Yeast infections are caused by overgrowth of Candida albicans yeast in the vagina. This is the most common cause of vaginal yeast infections. These fungi are naturally present in the body but when they multiply uncontrollably due to biological changes in their environment they can lead to infection. Vaginal yeast infections are usually simple to treat and proactively prevent.

Symptoms & Complaints

Vaginal yeast infections are characterized by symptoms of severe itchiness in the vagina and the surrounding tissues. Other symptoms may include:

Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection can resemble the symptoms of a urinary tract infection or several other sexually transmitted diseases. It is very easy to misdiagnose a yeast infection without a physician's input. More complicated symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection may include redness and swelling that can cause sores and tears.

Yeast infections become more complicated to treat if a woman is pregnant, has diabetes or has had more than four recurring yeast infections in a year. These could be indicators that the yeast infection has been caused by something other than candida. In some cases a vaginal yeast infection may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition. Seeking prompt medical treatment for a suspected vaginal yeast infection is important for ensuring a correct diagnosis.

Causes

Vaginal yeast infections are caused by the abnormal overgrowth of the Candida albicans yeast. Such fungus is already present in the vagina, but is kept in check by the bacteria Lactobacillus. Lactobacillus produces acid which controls the growth of Candida. Sometimes this dynamic can be changed causing the Candida to grow and cause infection. There are several things that can cause this imbalance, such as:

Sometimes a vaginal yeast infection can be caused by sexual activity. It is possible for a woman to transmit a yeast infection to her male partner via vaginal intercourse, oral sex or anal sex. Men can develop a yeast infection from having unprotected sex with a female partner who may currently have one. The number of men who develop yeast infections is much lower than that of women. Since a woman can develop a yeast infection without being sexually active they are not considered a sexually transmitted infection.

Diagnosis & Tests

There are several simple tests and exams that can lead to a correct diagnosis of a vaginal yeast infection. A physician will normally ask a patient about their medical history before performing a pelvic exam. They may also take samples of vaginal discharge or secretions to determine whether the infection is being caused by the overgrowth of candida or another abnormality.

Most yeast infections can be diagnosed without the need for laboratory tests or cultures. Further tests and exams are usually taken for patients who experience recurring yeast infections that do not get better with treatment. Depending on a patient's medical history a physician may order a blood test to rule out diabetes or another condition that could cause yeast infections.

If a sample or culture has been taken it will determine what kind of issue is causing the infection. This ensures that the correct treatment procedures will be taken. Depending on the results of the pelvic exam a doctor may order a Pap smear test. Although Pap tests can detect a yeast infection they are not used to diagnose them. Other tests may be needed to rule out other underlying conditions with similar symptoms.

Treatment & Therapy

Vaginal yeast infections can be easily treated with over-the-counter medications and ointments. Treatment can last one to three days or longer. Many medications are safe for most women to use even during pregnancy. The active ingredients in most creams and ointments include miconazole, tioconazole, terconazole and butoconazole. A physician may prescribe an oral medicine such as fluconazole. Most yeast infections can be treated after a single dose. More severe cases may require a longer treatment regimen or a combination of therapies. Checking with a doctor is the best way to ensure an infection can be easily treated.

There are several steps that can be taken to relieve symptoms such as swelling and itching at home. Sitting in a warm bath may help as well as a cool compress to the vaginal area. Rubbing or scratching to relieve the itching is not advised as this could create further problems. The use of tampons during treatment is not recommended as tampons can absorb the medication that is needed. There are also several home remedies that are claimed to treat and relieve yeast infections, however such treatments have not been backed by clinical tests and are not recommended treatment options.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Women can prevent against vaginal yeast infections by taking some of the following steps:

  • Avoiding using antibiotics if they are not needed, such as for a common cold or flu.
  • Avoid wearing tight-fitting pantyhose, underwear or leggings.
  • Avoiding the use of feminine products that contain perfumes.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet low in sugary foods (Candida thrives on sugars).
  • Change wet clothing as soon as possible
  • Don't take hot baths and avoid hot tubs.
  • Avoid douching, as this upsets the bacteria within the vagina causing infection.