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Yeast infection (vaginal)

A vaginal yeast infection is a type of vaginitis — inflammation of the vagina — characterized by vaginal irritation, intense itchiness and vaginal discharge. A vaginal yeast infection affects your vagina and the tissues at the opening to your vagina (vulva).

Vaginal yeast infection — also called vaginal candidiasis — is very common. As many as 3 out of 4 women experience a yeast infection at some point in their lifetimes. Many women experience two or more yeast infections.

A vaginal yeast infection isn't considered a sexually transmitted infection, although the fungus that causes the condition can be spread through oral-genital contact. Simple treatment is usually effective, unless you have recurrent yeast infections — four or more in a single year. In that case, you may need a longer course of therapy and a maintenance plan.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Prevention

Yeast infection symptoms can range from mild to moderate and include:

  • Itching and irritation in the vagina and at the entrance to the vagina (vulva)
  • A burning sensation, especially during intercourse or while urinating
  • Redness and swelling of the vulva
  • Vaginal pain and soreness
  • Thick, white, odor-free vaginal discharge with a cottage cheese appearance

Complicated yeast infection

You might have a complicated yeast infection if:

  • You have severe signs and symptoms, such as extensive redness, swelling and itching that leads to the development of tears or cracks (fissures) or sores
  • You have recurrent yeast infections — four or more in a single year
  • Your infection is caused by a type of candida other than Candida albicans
  • You're pregnant
  • You have uncontrolled diabetes
  • You have lowered immunity due to use of certain medications or a condition such as HIV infection

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if:

  • This is the first time you've experienced yeast infection symptoms
  • You're not sure whether you have a yeast infection
  • Your symptoms don't go away after self-treating with over-the-counter antifungal vaginal creams or suppositories
  • You develop other symptoms

A vaginal yeast infection is caused by the fungus candida. Candida is a microorganism that's normally present in your vagina, along with bacteria. Your vagina naturally contains a balanced mix of yeast and bacteria. Lactobacillus bacteria produce acid, which discourages overgrowth of yeast in the vagina. But disruption of the healthy balance can result in an overgrowth of yeast. Too much yeast in your vagina can lead to vaginal itching, burning, and other classic signs and symptoms of a yeast infection.

Overgrowth of yeast can result from:

  • Antibiotic use, which leads to a decrease in the amount of lactobacillus bacteria in your vagina and a change in your vaginal pH that allows yeast to overgrow
  • Pregnancy
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Impaired immune system
  • Anything that changes the type and amount of bacteria normally present in the vagina, such as douching or irritation from inadequate vaginal lubrication

Most often, yeast infection results from a type of candida fungus known as Candida albicans. Sometimes, however, a different type of candida fungus might be the cause of symptoms. Candida albicans responds well to typical treatments for yeast infections. Other types of candida, however, sometimes respond poorly to conventional therapies and may require more aggressive treatment.

A yeast infection can be sexually transmitted, especially through oral-genital sexual contact. However, yeast infection isn't considered a sexually transmitted infection because it happens in women who aren't sexually active and the candida fungus is naturally present in the vagina.

Factors that increase your risk of developing a yeast infection include:

  • Antibiotic use. Yeast infections are common in women who take antibiotics. Broad-spectrum antibiotics — those that are effective against a wide range of bacteria — kill healthy bacteria in your vagina, which can lead to the overgrowth of yeast.
  • Increased estrogen levels. Yeast infections appear to occur more frequently in women with increased estrogen levels — for instance, in women who are pregnant, those taking high-dose estrogen birth control pills or those taking estrogen hormone therapy.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes. In women who have diabetes, those with poorly controlled blood sugar levels are more likely to develop yeast infections than are women who have diabetes under control.
  • Impaired immune system. Women with lowered immunity — such as from corticosteroid therapy or HIV infection — are more likely to get yeast infections.
  • Sexual activity. Although yeast infections aren't considered sexually transmitted infections, one way the candida organism can be introduced into your vagina is through sexual contact.

To reduce your risk of vaginal yeast infection:

  • Avoid douching.
  • Wear cotton underwear and loosefitting pants or skirts.
  • Avoid tight-fitting underwear or pantyhose.
  • Change out of wet clothes, such as swimsuits or workout attire, as soon as possible.
  • Stay out of hot tubs or very hot baths.
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