What is a vaginal yeast infection?
A vaginal yeast infection is an infection caused by yeast (a type of fungus). Vaginal yeast infection is sometimes referred to as yeast vaginitis, Candidal vaginitis, or Candidal vulvovaginitis. The scientific name for the yeast that causes vaginitis is Candida. Over 90% of vaginal yeast infections are caused by the species known as Candida albicans. Other Candida species make up the remainder of yeast infections.
Candida species can be present in healthy women in the vagina without causing any symptoms. In fact, it is estimated that 20% to 50% of women have Candida already present in the vagina. For an infection to occur, the normal balance of yeast and bacteria is disturbed, allowing overgrowth of the yeast. While yeast can be spread by sexual contact, vaginal yeast infection is not considered to be a sexually-transmitted disease because it can also occur in women who are not sexually active, due to the fact that yeast can be present in the vagina of healthy women.
Vaginal yeast infections are very common, affecting up to 75% of women at some point in life.
Vaginal yeast infection definition and facts
- Most vaginal yeast infections are caused by the organism Candida albicans.
- Yeast infections are very common and affect up to 75% of women at some point in their lifetime.
- The main symptom of a vaginal yeast infection is itching, but burning, discharge, and pain with urination or intercourse can also occur.
- Treatment involves topical or oral antifungal medications.
- It is possible for a woman to transmit a yeast infection to a male sex partner, even though yeast infection is not considered to be a true sexually-transmitted disease (STD) because it can occur in women who are not sexually active.
- Treatment of yeast infection in men, like in women, involves antifungal medications.
- Keeping the vaginal area dry and avoiding irritating chemicals can help prevent yeast infections in women. Consuming foods with probiotics also may help.
What causes a vaginal yeast infection?
Vaginal yeast infections occur when new yeast is introduced into the vaginal area, or when there is an increase in the quantity of yeast already present in the vagina relative to the quantity of normal bacteria. For example, when the normal, protective bacteria are eradicated by antibiotics (taken to treat a urinary tract, respiratory, or other types of infection) or by immunosuppressive drugs, the yeast can multiply, invade tissues, and cause irritation of the lining of the vagina (vaginitis).
Vaginal yeast infections can also occur as a result of injury to the inner vagina, such as after chemotherapy. Also, women with suppressed immune systems (for example, those taking cortisone-related medications such as prednisone) develop vaginal yeast infections more frequently than women with normal immunity.
Other conditions that may predispose women to developing vaginal yeast infections include
- Pregnancy, and
- Taking oral contraceptives.
The use of douches or perfumed vaginal hygiene sprays may also increase a woman’s risk of developing a vaginal yeast infection.
A vaginal yeast infection is not considered to be a sexually transmitted disease (STD), since Candida may be present in the normal vagina, and the condition does occur in celibate women.
However, it is possible for men to develop symptoms of skin irritation of the penis from a yeast infection after sexual intercourse with an infected partner, although this is not always the case.
What may increase my risk of getting a vaginal yeast infection?
Women who have conditions that result in decreased immune function are more likely than others to develop yeast infections. These include women with cancer or receiving cancer chemotherapy, those with diabetes, and women taking steroid medications.
Pregnant women and women taking oral contraceptives are also at increased risk.
Taking antibiotics for any reason can alter the normal bacterial populations in the vagina and predispose to the overgrowth of yeast.
Taking steps to reduce moisture in the genital area can reduce the chances of developing a yeast infection. Wearing cotton underwear or underwear with a cotton crotch, wearing loose-fitting pants, and avoiding prolonged wearing of wet workout gear or bathing suits are all measures that can help control moisture, and may help reduce the chance of getting a yeast infection.
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