Vaginal yeast infections are a common vaginal infection in women caused by a species of yeast called Candida. Candida naturally live on the body and usually do not cause any problems. Candida is kept under control by the natural balance of bacteria and other substances on the surface of the skin and vagina. If something alters this balance, the Candida fungi can grow excessively and lead to a yeast infection. Oral or topical anti-fungal medications are used to treat yeast infections and other creams may be used to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms.
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Written by Dr Kimberly Langdon, MD
Information last reviewed 06/21/19
Yeast infections, often referred to as thrush, are a common vaginal infection that occurs primarily in women of reproductive age. It is caused by an imbalance in the microbiome of the vagina that allows the yeast (usually Candida albicans) to grow and cause an infection. This produces symptoms of itching, pain and whitish discharge. It is often treated with anti-fungal medications as well as a cream to soothe the symptoms.
Yeast infections are commonly caused by the Candida albicans fungus (50-60% of infections). Candida is normally found on the skin, but does not usually cause a problem, because it is kept under control by the bacteria and other substances that are naturally found on the skin. If something upsets this natural balance, i.e. taking antibiotics, the Candida fungi can grow too rapidly and lead to an infection.
Factors that can cause this imbalance are:
As mentioned previously, most yeast infections are caused by Candida albicans, which accounts for 50-60% of all yeast infections. However, other types of Candida can also lead to similar infections.
If you have a vaginal yeast infection you may experience some of the following symptoms:
If you have had thrush before, you will probably know when it returns, because the symptoms are very recognizable.
To diagnose thrush you will be asked about your symptoms. If it is still not clear if you have thrush a doctor may do a visual assessment of your vagina and a swab may be taken to check for other conditions such as STIs.
Various conditions can predispose you to getting a vaginal yeast infection. These factors include:
Other factors that may contribute to a yeast infection are:
If you have a yeast infection, a combination of treatments is often most effective: one treatment to soothe the symptoms, and another to treat the underlying infection.
Most women will be prescribed one of the following to treat the fungal infection:
Applying cold packs to the affected area can be an easy way to soothe your symptoms. You may sometimes be prescribed topical steroid creams to reduce inflammation or numbing agents to reduce painful symptoms.
It usually takes several days for symptoms to resolve and sometimes topical creams can make the symptoms worse before they improve.
Yes, but they are not considered sexually transmitted infections because yeast is a normal inhabitant of the vagina and skin. Sex is a common way for people to become reinfected. It is advised that partners are watchful of any developing infection and may need to seek treatment if they develop symptoms.
Many broad-spectrum antibiotics kill the normal, good bacteria of the vagina, known as Lactobacillus. Lactobacillus produce lactic acid, which helps to maintain the correct acidity of the vagina. If the acidity changes, and the vagina becomes more alkaline, the Candida can proliferate and cause a yeast infection and associated symptoms.
It is very rare for vaginal yeast infections to go away without treatment. This only happens in 0.5% of cases. The immune system often struggles to combat these types of infections on its own, so it is a good idea to get treatment as soon as you notice any symptoms of a yeast infection.
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