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vaginal yeast infection

Alternative Names 
vulvovaginal candidiasis

A vaginal yeast infection is caused by one of a group of fungal organisms known as Candida. These include Candida albicans,Candida tropicalis,Candida glabrata, and Candida parapsilosis.

What is going on in the body? 
Candida organisms are normally found in the vagina in small numbers. Their number is kept in check by the normal bacteria that also live there. Certain situations can disrupt this balance and allow a vaginal yeast infection to develop.

What are the signs and symptoms of the infection? 
The most common symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include:
  • burning with urination or sexual intercourse
  • redness and inflammation of the vulva and vagina
  • vaginal discharge which is typically thick and white, with a "cottage cheese" consistency
  • vaginal or vulvar itching
What are the causes and risks of the infection? 
Vaginal yeast infections are caused by Candida organisms. Some diseases and conditions that increase a woman's risk for vaginal yeast infection include: Other factors that increase the risk for a vaginal yeast infection include:
  • a diet high in sugar
  • antibiotic therapy
  • corticosteroid use
  • oral contraceptive use
  • sexual activity, which can change the acid-base balance in the vagina
  • using feminine hygiene products
  • wearing tight clothing or nylon underwear
What can be done to prevent the infection? 
Helpful measures to prevent vaginal yeast infections include:
  • asking sexual partners to use a condom
  • controlling blood glucose levels if the woman has diabetes
  • limiting intake of dietary sugars
  • limiting time spent in a wet bathing suit
  • limiting use of feminine hygiene products
  • using antifungal creams, such as miconazole, clotrimazole, or nystatin when taking oral antibiotics
  • wearing loose clothing and cotton underwear
  • wiping the buttocks from front to back after bowel movements
How is the infection diagnosed? 
Diagnosis of a vaginal yeast infection begins with a medical history and physical examination. The doctor may do a pelvic exam and Pap smear to rule out other infections. A sample of the vaginal discharge may be sent to the laboratory to check for Candida and other organisms.

What are the long-term effects of the infection? 
With proper treatment, the infection should resolve in a few days to a week.

What are the risks to others? 
Vaginal yeast infections are not believed to be transmitted from one person to another.

What are the treatments for the infection? 
A woman may choose to use an over-the-counter antifungal medication. These medications are inserted into the vagina. Some examples include miconazole, clotrimazole, and nystatin. The doctor can prescribe stronger antifungal creams. An oral medication called fluconazole is now available over-the-counter.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
Vaginal creams may cause vulvar burning. Fluconazole may cause stomach upset or allergic reaction.

What happens after treatment for the infection? 
Women should avoid sexual intercourse until the symptoms are gone and the course of treatment has been completed. Douching, bubble baths, hygiene sprays, or scented soaps around the vulva may irritate the skin.

How is the infection monitored? 
Women who have repeated yeast infections that persist despite treatment should see a doctor. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.

Author: Eva Martin, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 28/02/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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