• What is a Yeast Infection?
Guide To Yeast Infections
|What Is A Yeast Infection?
A yeast infection is the overgrowth of yeast (a fungus) in the body. Typically an infection occurs inside the vagina (image), although in some cases it might also occur in the mouth (oral thrush, image), digestive tract (gastroenteritis, image), on the scalp (dandruff) and more dangerously (but rarely) in the blood stream. For the purpose of this article we will focus on yeast infections which occur in the vagina. The most common type of yeast fungus is Candida albicans. It causes candidiasis, also known as thrush in the UK, or more generally referred to as a yeast infection in the United States. Women with infections complain of itchiness and soreness in the vaginal area which is often accompanied by a thick white discharge. Yeast infections affect more than 1.3 million American women a year. Although effective treatments are now available without prescription (which has reduced treatment costs) many doctors and women are still frustrated by chronic or recurrent infections. Yeast infections are not generally life threatening but they can make everyday life pretty miserable. Women who take antibiotics appear to be at greater risk of developing an infection. This link is supported by over 26,000 studies on Candida albicans since the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s.
The classic symptoms of yeast infections in the vaginal region are:
Itchiness & Burning
Red & Soreness
Causes of yeast infections: Although Candida albicans are naturally present in the vagina, a yeast infection only develops when the balance of the microorganisms become upset so that they proliferate and take over. Factors which can cause this to happen include:
Oral Contraceptive Pills
A clinical diagnosis of a yeast infection is important as a recent study showed that 75 percent of women who bought over the counter anti-fungal medication had incorrectly self-diagnosed. While some had yeast infections others had other infections like cytolytic vaginosis (a type of vaginitis) which requires different treatment. Others again, had no vaginal infection at all. A doctor can diagnose a yeast infection by carrying out a pelvic examination. A sample of the discharge may be sent to a lab to test for yeast fungus. The doctor may also arrange to culture cells from the discharge to determine the exact type of Candida species present. This is particularly important in the case of recurrent or chronic infections.
Yeast infection treatment: Over the counter creams and suppositories are available for treating yeast infections, some of the most popular brands in America include Gyne-Lotrimin and Monistat (Canesten in the UK). If infections persist or recur a stronger anti-fungal cream like Terazol may be prescribed by a doctor. There are 2 main types of prescription drugs which are prescribed for tackling the overgrowth of Candida, these are Azole drugs and nystatin. Very often they are used in combination for maximum effect. The three types of Azole drugs are Diflucan (fluconazole), Nizoral (ketoconazole) and Sporanox (itraconazole). See:
Natural remedies for yeast infections: A variety of home remedies have been used by generations of women. Popular examples include douching with vinegar douches or spooning yogurt with live acidophilus cultures into the vagina. In theory, and anecdotally reported by women, many of these home remedies help by lowering the pH balance of the vagina, making it less hospitable to yeast. There are a wide range of natural supplements which may help in the longterm prevention of chronic candidiasis.
Women who suffer recurrent bouts of yeast infections may want to talk to their doctor about taking powerful anti-fungal drugs like fluconazole (Diflucan) or ketoconazole (Nizoral) on a long-term basis. However because of the side effects, they probably should not be taken for longer than 6 months at a time. A safer alternative may be to insert a vaginal suppository once a week. Following a balanced diet, finding ways to reduce stress and ensuring you get enough sleep can also help.
The purpose of a candida diet plan is to eliminate foods which 'feed' yeast infections. Those following such a diet are required to avoid foods on a restricted food list. Typically carbs, dairy products and highly processed foods are restricted. How long someone needs to follow the diet usually depends on the severity of their symptoms and history of recurrence. Generally most women report an improvement of symptoms within 2-4 weeks. Once a lab test gives the all-clear, some of those foods can be re-introduced into the daily diet. See: Candida diet guidelines.
Yes, men do get yeast infections although in far fewer numbers than women. Men generally develop infections in the genital region (image). Most typically the penis will be affected, turning red and sore. There may also be some discharge and peeling skin. A red rash with white spots can occur on the skin causing itchiness. There may also be some anal itching. It is still not clear if yeast infections can be passed between partners, but it may be safer to assume they can until proven otherwise. For this reason it is recommended that people with recurrent yeast infections should ensure their partner is also treated to prevent any chance of cross-infection. Outside of being infected by their partner, other causes of yeast infections in men include the use of condoms with nonoxynol-9 added as a lubricant, poor personal hygiene and diabetes. The same creams and anti-fungal drugs prescribed for women can be prescribed to men.
Invasive candidiasis is a fungal infection which occurs when Candida enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body. Typically it occurs in hospital patients and enters through an intravenous catheter. In fact it is the 4th most common blood infection contracted in hospitals in America. Candida albicans remains the main species of Candida involved in invasive candidiasis, but candida glabrata is the next most common cause. According to the National Center for Health Statistics there are 4 deaths per million from invasive candidiasis every year. If you have questions on any other health topic, see our section womens health questions.
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