Understanding and Treating Yeast Infections

by Gerald F. Joseph, Jr., M.D.

A yeast infection is a common ailment that will affect approx-imately 75% of women in the US at some point. Nearly half of all women will have more than one.

Yeast infections develop when Candida, a fungus naturally found in small amounts in the vagina, disrupts the balance of vaginal bacteria and yeast. This causes an inflammation of the vagina, known as vaginitis. Itching, burning that may be worse during sex or urination, and irritation of the area outside of the vagina (vulva) are the most common signs of a yeast infection. Women may also notice redness and swelling of the vulva and a lumpy, white discharge. Many women will have mild to severe symptoms, though some will have none at all.

Pregnant women and those who have diabetes, weakened immune systems or who take antibiotics have a higher risk of developing yeast infections. Changes in hormone levels, breastfeeding, meno-pause, the use of spermicides and douches, sexual intercourse, or other infections may also trigger them.

Effective treatments such as antifungal creams, tablets, or ointments or suppositories that are inserted into the vagina are widely available by prescription or over the counter (OTC), making it fairly
simple to clear most infections at home.

Some women assume that all vaginal itching and burning is caused by yeast infections and try to treat themselves with OTC antifungal remedies, but this may not be the case. Yeast infection symptoms may resemble those associated with other types of vaginitis, such as bacterial vaginosis, and sexually transmitted diseases such as trichomoniasis, chlamydia, or gonorrhea. Studies have shown that approximately two-thirds of women who buy OTC treatments do not actually have a yeast infection.

Be sure to talk to your doctor any time you experience unusual symptoms or think you may have a yeast infection, especially if you are pregnant, have never been diagnosed with a yeast infection before, or have infections that keep coming back.

The following tips may help you stay yeast infection-free:

 Do not try to cover up a bad odor. Feminine hygiene spray and deodor-ant tampons can mask scents that may be a sign of infection
 Avoid douching
 Thoroughly clean diaphragms, cervi-cal caps, and spermicide applicators after each use
 Use condoms during sex
 Ask your doctor about preventing yeast infections if you are prescribed antibiotics for another type of infection.

(Dr. Gerald F. Joseph, Jr. is the President of President, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.)

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