How to treat and prevent recurring vaginal yeast infections

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A vaginal yeast infection experienced one time can be bad enough but recurrent yeast infections can drive a woman crazy.  The itching and burning accompanying a yeast infection has women who are desperate for relief.  Many women blame yeast infections on certain foods they are eating.  Going gluten-free or avoiding chocolate are common food foes often believed by some women to be the cause of their misery.  Other women may blame it on sex avoiding sexual contact with their partner. 

True recurrent yeast infections, defined as four or more each year, are mostly rare among the majority of women.  However, up to 75 percent of women will get a vaginal yeast infection at least once in their lifetime and up to 50 percent will experience more than one infection over the years.  For some women, particularly those with diabetes, a vaginal yeast infection can be a common occurrence.  About 5 percent of women get four or more vaginal yeast infections a year which is called recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis or RVVC.  RVVC is common in women with diabetes or weak immune systems. 

Vaginal yeast infections are rare before puberty and after menopause.

What is a vaginal yeast infection?

There is a type of yeast fungus called Candida albicans which takes up residence in the warm, moist places such as the gastrointestinal tract and the vagina.  A vaginal yeast infection can occur when the population of yeast in the vagina increases greatly. This condition is known medically as vulvovaginal candidiasis. 

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom of a vaginal yeast infection is extreme itchiness in and around the vagina.  Other signs and symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, can include:

·Burning, redness, and swelling of the vagina and the vulva

·Pain when urinating

·Pain during sex

·Soreness

·A thick, white vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese without a bad smell 

Causes of a yeast infection

Several factors are involved in causing a vaginal yeast infection.  Even though it is not entirely understood what is the origin here are some reasons why a woman may develop a yeast infection:

·Pregnancy, birth control pills, and estrogen therapy which can alter normal hormonal balance

·Frequent antibiotic use which kills the good bacteria that normally keep Candida’s population under control

·Uncontrolled diabetes which can cause a spike in sugar in the membrane of the vagina – sugar encourages the growth of yeast

·Conditions affecting the immune system such as HIV

·Obesity, which provides more areas of warmth and moisture, such as in skin folds, in which Candida can grow

·Tightfitting or synthetic clothing keeping the vaginal area moist and warm

·Yeast infections that keep recurring may be the result of an intestinal or vaginal reservoir of Candida or transmission from sexual partners

Treating recurring yeast infections

If a woman keeps having yeast infections, she should go to her gynecologist to get a yeast culture.  Symptoms of a yeast infection can vary so it is best for women to make sure it actually is a vaginal yeast infection.  If the culture comes back and it is positive for a vaginal yeast infection then the doctor can treat it effectively. 

Yeast infections are typically treated with an antifungal medicine.  A woman can buy antifungal medicine for yeast infections over-the-counter.  They come in creams, tablets, ointments, or suppositories that a woman inserts into her vagina.  A doctor may also prescribe a single dose of antifungal medicine taken by mouth, such as fluconazole.  Women who get more than four vaginal yeast infections a year or if the yeast infection is not going away from an over-the-counter treatment, she may need to take regular doses of antifungal medicine for up to six months. 

Preventing recurring yeast infections

To keep a vaginal yeast infection from recurring, remember, they love warm, moist conditions.  If you take that away from them, a yeast infection is less likely to occur.  Here are some tips on avoiding and preventing them from recurring:

·Wear cotton underwear instead synthetic

·It’s best to ditch pajama bottoms and go bare for better air circulation to the vaginal area while sleeping

·Avoid wearing tight jeans or spandex and opt for more looser, breathable materials

·Always wipe from front to back after using the toilet

·Take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary and prescribed by your doctor

·Avoid douching – this can remove some of the normal bacteria in the vagina that protects you from infection

·Abstain from sex until the infection is gone

·Change tampons, pads, and panty liners frequently

·Avoid hot tubs and very hot baths

·Some studies have shown eating eight ounces of yogurt with “live cultures” daily or taking Lactobacillus acidophilus capsules can help prevent infection