A vaginal yeast infection is a fungal infection, caused by the yeast Candida albicans. Vaginal yeast infection may also be called candidiasis, vaginal candidiasis, or monilial vaginitis.
C. albicans is a common type of fungus called a yeast. According to the U.S. Office on Women's Health, three out of four women will have a vaginal yeast infection at some time in their lives. Almost half of all women will have two or more vaginal yeast infections throughout their lives. C. albicans is normally found in small amounts in the mouth and digestive tract, on the skin, and in the vagina. Usually it does not cause an infection.
Vaginal yeast infections are rare before puberty and after menopause, except in women who take hormone therapy. Although uncommon, men can also get yeast infections.
It is normal for small amounts of bacteria * and fungi to live throughout the body in a stable balance. When the balance becomes unstable, infection can result. In this case, the number of Candida spores increases, causing an overgrowth or imbalance, and an infection results.
Vaginal yeast infections affect women and girls only. Women who are pregnant, obese * , have diabetes * with uncontrolled blood sugar levels, have a weakened immune system * , or who are taking antibiotic * medications are at increased risk for having a vaginal yeast infection. Women who douche ([DOOSH] using a liquid to cleanse the vagina) or use vaginal sprays are also at increased risk because these products upset the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina.
The healthcare provider obtains a complete health history asking specific questions related to symptoms, other health conditions (e.g., diabetes, autoimmune disorders), and if the woman is taking antibiotics for some other condition. A physical examination, including a vaginal or pelvic exam, is done. During the vaginal exam, the healthcare provider may see swelling and redness of the vulva (the area surrounding the vaginal opening), the vagina, and the cervix (at the end of the vaginal canal); dry, white spots on the wall of the vagina; and cracks in the skin of the vulva. A sample of the discharge is taken using a swab that is examined under a microscope for the presence of C. albicans. A culture * of the discharge may be done.
A vaginal yeast infection in men and women is treated using antifungal drugs * . Some medications are available as over-the-counter creams, ointments, vaginal suppositories * , or vaginal pills that can be purchased without a prescription. The healthcare provider may prescribe antifungal or antibiotic medications to be taken by mouth if the woman has frequent vaginal yeast infections or if the infection does not heal with vaginal medications.
Vaginal yeast infections can be prevented by:
See also Fungal Infections
Beckmann, Charles R. B., et al. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2014.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Fungal Diseases: Genital/Vulvovaginal Candidiasis.” http://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/Candidiasis/genital/ (accessed April 5, 2016).
MedlinePlus. “Vaginal Yeast Infection.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001511.htm (accessed April 5, 2016).
Merck Manual: Consumer Version. “Vaginal Yeast Infection (Candidiasis).” http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/women-s-health-issues/vaginal-infections-and-pelvic-inflammatory-disease/vaginal-yeastinfection-candidiasis (accessed July 6, 2016).
WomensHealth.gov . “Vaginal Yeast Infection.” Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/vaginal-yeast-infections (accessed April 5, 2016).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1600 Clifton Rd., Atlanta, GA 30329-4027. Toll-free: 800-232-4636. Website: http://www.cdc.gov (accessed April 5, 2016).
Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 200 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC 20201. Toll-free: 800-994-9662. Website: http://www.womenshealth.gov (accessed April 5, 2016).
* yeast (YEEST) is a general term describing single-celled fungi that reproduce by budding.
* fungal infection (FUN-gul inFEK-shun) is a disease caused by fungus (FUN-gus), a microorganism that can grow in or on the body, causing infections of internal organs or of the skin, hair, and nails. The plural form of fungus is fungi (FUNG-eye).
* bacteria (bak-TEER-ee-a) are single-celled microorganisms that typically reproduce by cell division. Some, but not all, types of bacteria can cause disease in humans. Many types can live in the body without causing harm.
* obese (o-BEESE) refers to an excess of body fat. People are considered obese if they weigh more than 30 percent above what is healthy for their height.
* diabetes (dye-uh-BEE-teez) is a condition in which the body's pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body cannot use the insulin it makes effectively, resulting in increased levels of sugar in the blood.
* immune system (ih-MYOON SIStem) is the system of organs and special cells in the body that helps protect against diseasecausing germs.
* antibiotic (an-tie-by-AH-tik) is a drug that kills or slows the growth of bacteria.
* culture (KUL-chur) is a test in which a sample of fluid or tissue from the body is placed in a dish containing material that supports the growth of certain organisms. Typically, within days the organisms will grow and can be identified.
* antifungal drugs (an-ty-FUN-gal) are medications that kill fungi.
* suppository (suh-POZ-uh-tor-ee) is a medicated delivery preparation that consists of a dissolvable cone or cylinder that is inserted into the vagina or rectum.