Yeast infections are caused when too much of one of the naturally occurring candida fungi grows in the vagina. Yeast infections are a common condition and treatment is available; however, the condition may recur. Women that suffer from recurrent yeast infections - four or more in one year - require special treatment. A yeast infection is one of the most common types of vaginitis, or inflammation of the vagina.
What causes recurrent yeast infections?
Yeast infections are caused by a fungus known as candida that is normally found in small numbers in the vagina. When the normal balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina is altered, the yeast may overgrow and cause symptoms. Some factors or conditions that can increase the risk of a yeast infection include:
- Certain types of antibiotics
- Pregnancy and changes in the body's hormone level
- Change in immune status (e.g. in transplant patients)
In many cases, the exact cause of the yeast infection is not known.
What are the symptoms of recurrent yeast infections?
Common symptoms include:
- Itching is the primary symptom but there may also be burning in the area outside the vagina (vulva), which may worsen when urinating or during intercourse
- Red and swollen vulva
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Vaginal discharge that is white, clumpy and odorless
How are recurrent yeast infections diagnosed?
Diagnosis starts with a thorough medical history and detailed discussion of your symptoms. A pelvic exam will be conducted and a sample of vaginal discharge will be taken and tested to determine if you have a yeast infection. You may be asked to avoid douching, sexual intercourse or using any vaginal medications before your visit, for accurate test results.
How are recurrent yeast infections treated?
Yeast infections are typically treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams or suppositories, or oral antifungal medication. Treatment of recurrent yeast infections is more challenging and may include:
- Long-term antifungal therapy (vaginal cream, ointment, tablet or suppository)
- Maintenance therapy after initial treatment clears up the infection
- Lifestyle changes to reduce recurrence, including avoiding tight clothing that holds in heat and moisture and avoiding certain perfumed hygiene products