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Vaginal Yeast Infection

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Vaginal yeast infection, or vulvovaginal candidiasis, is a common cause of vaginal irritation. Nearly 75 percent of all adult women have had at least one "yeast infection" in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention.

Cause

This infection is caused by an overgrowth of a fungus called Candida albicans in the vagina. Candida is yeast, which is a type of fungus.

Yeast are always present in the vagina in small numbers, and symptoms only appear with overgrowth. Candida can multiply when an imbalance occurs, such as when the normal acidity of the vagina changes or when hormonal balance changes. When that happens, symptoms of candidiasis may appear.

Transmission

Several factors are associated with increased yeast infection in women, including

  • Weakened or compromised immune systems
  • Pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • Long-term use of broad-spectrum antibiotics
  • Use of corticosteroid medicines

Wearing tight, poorly ventilated clothing and underwear also can contribute to yeast infections. Women with chronic (recurring) yeast infections should work with their healthcare providers to find out possible underlying causes.

On rare occasions, men can also get genital candidiasis.

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Symptoms

The most frequent symptoms of yeast infection in women are itching, burning, and irritation of the vagina. Painful urination and painful intercourse also are common.

Vaginal discharge is not always present and may only be present in small amounts. The thick, whitish-gray discharge is typically described as cottage-cheese-like, although it can vary from watery to thick.

Most male partners of women with yeast infections do not have any symptoms of the infection. Some men, however, have reported temporary rashes and burning sensations of the penis after intercourse if they did not use condoms.

Diagnosis

Because few specific signs and symptoms of yeast infections are usually present, healthcare providers can't diagnose this condition by a person’s medical history and physical examination. They usually diagnose yeast infection by examining vaginal secretions under a microscope for evidence of yeast.

Treatment

Various antifungal vaginal medicines are available to treat yeast infections. Women can buy antifungal creams to be applied directly to the area, tablets to be taken orally, or suppositories for use in the vagina.

Because bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, and yeast infections are difficult to tell apart on the basis of symptoms alone, a woman with vaginal symptoms should see her healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis before using these products.

Women who have chronic or recurring yeast infections may need to be treated with vaginal creams or oral medicines for long periods of time. HIV-infected women can develop severe yeast infections that often do not respond to treatment.

For updated information about the treatment for vaginal yeast infections, read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines.

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Last Updated February 07, 2013