The link between diabetes and vaginal yeast infections

If you are a woman who has diabetes, there is a very good chance you will develop a vaginal yeast infection at some point in your life.  Even for those who do not have diabetes, three out of every four women will experience a yeast infection and half will have two or more. 

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One of the reasons why women are more prone to vaginal yeast infections is because yeast normally lives on the skin and near the vagina.  When the vagina’s natural balance of healthy bacteria is disrupted (the fungus Candida), the yeast can grow out of control.  Women will typically know something is wrong when they develop the telltale itching, discharge, and burning sensation in the vaginal area.

Yeast infections and diabetes

A 2013 study found a significant link between high blood sugar or hyperglycemia and vaginal yeast infections in women and children with type 1 diabetes.  Another study from 2014 found that women with type 2 diabetes may be at even higher risk for vaginal yeast infections.

Another reason why women with diabetes are more prone to vaginal yeast infections is due to the fact that yeast feeds off sugar.  If a woman’ blood sugar levels are not well-controlled, her blood sugar level can spike to very high levels.  This increased level of blood sugar from diabetes affects the entire body and not just the blood. The more sugar in her blood, the more yeast can feed off of that causing it to grow, particularly in a warm area such as the vagina.  Elevated blood sugar can appear in the mucus of the vagina and vulva, serving as an excellent culture medium for yeast.  Yeast gets it energy from sugar and if the environment is moist with sugar, yeast can begin to overgrow. 

Controlling yeast infections

The best thing a woman with diabetes can do is to keep her blood sugar levels well-controlled to help reduce the risk of infection.  All women diagnosed with diabetes should have periodic screenings for vaginal yeast infections as some types of candidiasis can lead to serious health complications if left untreated.

When blood sugar levels are poorly controlled in diabetes, this can affect and compromise a woman’s ability to fight off infections.  Once a yeast infection has begun, getting rid of it may not be that easy.

Women with diabetes who develop a yeast infection are treated the same way as women without diabetes who get a yeast infection.  All women with a vaginal yeast infection should first seek the advice of her primary care doctor.  Generally over-the-counter treatments consist of antifungal vaginal creams and suppositories which are used for one to seven days, depending on the product. 

If a yeast infection is taking a long time to go away, then a woman may be prescribed medications for it such as Diflucan (fluconazole).  

All women, whether diagnosed with diabetes or not, should not try to diagnosis themselves with a yeast infection.  They should always see their doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. 

Lowering the risk for vaginal yeast infections

While a women diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes may not always be able to prevent a vaginal yeast infection, there are things you can do to lower your risk of developing one to begin with.  Some tips that may help prevent yeast infections include the following:

·      Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing

·      Wear cotton underwear

·      Eat yogurt with live cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus

·      Most importantly, maintain good blood sugar control to lessen the amount of sugar in the blood to reduce promoting the buildup of yeast.  Monitor blood sugar levels at least once a day with a blood glucose monitor so you know what your blood sugar levels are doing.