Vaginal yeast infections

Vaginal yeast infections are common in women. They are characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Itching or irritation of the vulva or the vaginal opening.
  • Odourless vaginal discharge that has the consistency of cottage cheese (white, thick and clumpy).
  • Reddened and swollen vaginal tissue.

Pain with intercourse or with urination may also occur.

Causes and triggers

A vaginal yeast infection is caused by a type of fungus, known as yeast, that is naturally present in the vagina. An imbalance in the normal vaginal flora can lead to an overgrowth of yeast, resulting in an infection.

While vaginal yeast infections are not a sexually transmitted infection, they are more common in women who are sexually active. Also, they are more likely to develop in the time surrounding the menstrual period. The following factors may also contribute to an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina:

  • The use of certain medications (e.g., antibiotics, hormonal contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy)
  • Weakened immune system
  • Pregnancy
  • Poorly controlled diabetes

Treatment

If you have symptoms suggestive of a vaginal yeast infection, consult your doctor to make sure that the symptoms are not caused by another medical problem. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your healthcare provider may recommend an antifungal cream or tablet that is inserted into the vagina, or an oral antifungal pill.

Some women tend to have recurrent yeast infections. If such is the case, here are a few measures you can take to help prevent recurrences:

  • When washing the vaginal area, use mild, unscented soap, and rinse well.
  • Avoid vaginal douches and deodorants, as well as bubble baths and bath oils.
  • After using the toilet, wipe from front to back.
  • Change tampons or pads regularly.
  • Wear white cotton underwear and avoid undergarments made of synthetic materials.
  • Avoid staying in damp clothing (e.g., bathing suit, sportswear) for several hours.
  • Avoid spas and very hot baths.
  • Wear loose fitting clothing.

When should I see a medical professional?

  • If vaginal discharge is coloured or foul-smelling, or if you experience abnormal vaginal bleeding.
  • If you are pregnant.
  • If you are younger than 12 years of age, older than 60 years of age, or are postmenopausal.
  • If you have recurrent vaginal infections, or if your symptoms are not relieved after completing an antifungal treatment.
  • If you have a fever, abnormal abdominal or pelvic pain, blood in the urine, or if you have a frequent urge to urinate.
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