Vaginal yeast infections are common in women. They are so common, in fact, that 3 out of 4 women will have a yeast infection at some point in their lifetimes. Nearly half will have more than one.
Here’s what you need to know about the causes, risks, and symptoms of vaginal yeast infections and how to treat them.
What Causes Yeast Infections?
Yeast overgrowth causes vaginal yeast infections. A healthy vagina has yeast naturally present in balanced levels. When there is an imbalance and yeast overgrows, it can cause a yeast infection.
The stages of yeast infections may be classified as mild, moderate, or severe.
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Am I at Risk for Yeast Infections?
Women of any age can get yeast infections. However, they are rare before puberty or after menopause.
You have a higher risk of getting a yeast infection if you:
- Have diabetes. Diabetes causes excess glucose in the blood as well as the vagina, which normally has an acidic pH. Glucose is a type of sugar. In the vagina, glucose changes the pH environment, providing nutrients that promote the overgrowth of yeast.
- Have an immune deficiency. Women with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of getting yeast infections because their bodies can’t fight them off.
- Take antibiotics or steroids. Both medications may kill off the healthy bacteria that prevent yeast overgrowth inside the vagina. Without the bacteria, yeast has a better environment in which to overgrow and turn into an infection.
Also, many women with yeast infections do not have an underlying medical condition that predisposes them to infections.
What Are the Symptoms of Yeast Infections?
There are several symptoms of a common vaginal yeast infection. They include:
- An itchy feeling in the vagina and vulva.
- Redness and swelling of the vulva.
- Small tears or tiny cracks in the skin of the vulva.
- White vaginal discharge, sometimes with the consistency of cottage cheese.
- Burning with urination.
- Pain during sexual intercourse.
Two other types of vaginal infections may be confused with a yeast infection because the symptoms are often similar. These causes of vaginitis are:
- Bacterial vaginosis, which may also cause a “fishy” odor.
- Trichomoniasis, or “trich,” the most common curable STD.
There are several causes of vaginal discharge, itching, and discomfort. If you have symptoms or if this is your first vaginal infection, call your doctor for an evaluation. This can determine the cause of your symptoms and the best treatment for you.
How Long Do Yeast Infections Last?
How long a vaginal yeast infection lasts depends on how severe the infection is and what treatment you receive. If you get treatment for the right type of infection with the right medication, most common yeast infections will clear up within a week or so.
While some mild yeast infections may go away on their own, most infections need medication to clear them up.
How Can I Treat a Yeast Infection?
If this is your first yeast infection, contact your doctor for an exam and prescription medication.
If you’ve had a prior yeast infection and are confident that the symptoms you currently have are similar to past yeast infections that were successfully treated, you can try an over-the-counter yeast infection treatment. However, you should contact your doctor if your infection does not clear up, if it gets worse, or if it happens again when you stop the medication.
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