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. In that respect it is completely normal to have a bout of yeast from time to time but make sure you get yourself treated immediately to prevent further complications.
Symptoms can include:
- a vaginal discharge that is typically thick,
- odorless, and
- whitish-gray in color.
- The discharge has been described as having a cottage-cheese-like consistency.
- An intense itching of the vaginal or genital area
- Irritation and burning
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain or burning during urination
- Redness, irritation, or soreness of the vagina or vulva in women; swelling of the vagina
One must beware however because yeast infections might be a sign of something more serious and you must listen to your body if you feel your symptoms are more sinister.
If your symptoms are severe or they don’t get better after treatment with an over-the-counter cream or suppository, call your doctor.
Signs of a complicated infection include:
- Severe symptoms (such as redness, swelling, and itching so severe that it causes tears or sores)
- A yeast infection that occurs four or more times in a year
- You’ve developed other kinds of symptoms.
- This is your first yeast infection.
- You’re not sure whether you have a yeast infection or something else.
There are many reasons you could get a yeast infection, including:
- Hormones: Changes during pregnancy, breast-feeding or menopause (or if you’re taking birth control pills) can change the balance in your vagina.
- Diabetes: If your diabetes is not well-controlled, the increase in sugar in the mucus membranes (moist linings) of your vagina can create a place for yeast to grow.
- Antibiotics: These drugs can kill off many of the good bacteria that live in your vagina.
- Douches and vaginal sprays: The use of these products can change the balance in your vagina.
- A weakened immune system: If you are HIV-positive or have another immune system disorder, the yeast may also grow uncontrolled.
- Sex: Though a yeast infection is not considered a sexually transmitted infection, it can be passed from person to person through sexual contact.
- Short-course vaginal therapy. Taking an antifungal medication for three to seven days will usually clear a yeast infection. Antifungal medications — which are available as creams, ointments, tablets and suppositories — include miconazole (Monistat 3) and terconazole. Some of these medications are available over-the-counter and others by prescription only.
- Single-dose oral medication. Your doctor might prescribe a one-time, single oral dose of fluconazole (Diflucan). Oral medication isn’t recommended if you’re pregnant. To manage more-severe symptoms, you might take two single doses three days apart.
When to see a doctor
- Women should see a healthcare provider the first time vaginal yeast infection symptoms occur or if they are unsure as to whether they have a yeast infection. If certain, the condition can be treated with over-the-counter medications.
- However, if symptoms do not respond to one course of over-the-counter medications, yeast infection may not be the problem.
- Pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems should contact a doctor before beginning any over-the-counter self-treatment.
- Women who experience recurrent vaginal yeast infections, or yeast infections that do not clear up with treatment, should immediately contact a healthcare provider for professional diagnosis and management.
- If a woman has more than four episodes of vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC) in a year, she is deemed to have recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis, a chronic yeast infection problem.