Yeast Infections

What is a yeast infection?

Candida albicans, and other forms of yeast, grow in the vagina, rectum, and mouth. In a healthy vagina, the presence of some yeast may not be a problem. When a woman's system is out of balance, yeast-like organisms can grow profusely and cause a thick, white discharge. A yeast infection is not necessarily an STI; however, treating a woman and her sexual partner may help prevent recurrent yeast infections.

Is it common?

Yeast infections are the second most common type of vaginal infection women experience (bacterial vaginosis is the most common). Over 70% of women develop at least one yeast infection during their life and over 40% of women have had more than one infection.

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What causes yeast infections?

Factors that may disturb the vagina's balance include:

  • Antibiotic treatments
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Hot weather or non-ventilating clothing, which increase moisture and warmth, fostering fungal growth
  • Repeated intercourse over a short period of time
  • Stress
  • Suppressed immune system (including HIV)
  • High carbohydrate intake, especially refined sugars and alcohol
  • Pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • Irritants such as soaps, powders, new detergents and other products

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a typical yeast infection may include:

  • Vaginal itching
  • Vaginal irritation
  • Thick, white, possibly curd-like vaginal discharge
  • Redness, swelling, and/or cracking of the vulvar skin
  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Itching of the rectal opening
  • Pain during sexual intercourse.

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Can men get yeast infections?

Yes, men can contract a yeast infection if they have unprotected sexual activity with a partner who has a yeast infection. If both partners are not treated, they can keep re-infecting each other. Male sexual partners may develop genital irritation and genital itching, especially if they are uncircumcised, but usually there is no discharge. Sometimes, men can develop yeast infections without sexual activity with an infected partner. Prolonged antibiotic use can cause a yeast infection in the penis and men with diabetes or immune compromising conditions such as HIV are more susceptible to yeast infections.

How is it diagnosed?

Yeast infections should be diagnosed and treated by a medical professional. There are over-the-counter medications available for women who have had professional guidance about how to recognize the symptoms. Otherwise, it is necessary to meet with your medical provider because it's easy to think you have a yeast infection when you may really have a more serious infection or condition such as chlamydia or gonorrhea. In fact, recent studies found that many women misdiagnose their own yeast infections and use one of the over-the-counter treatments when no yeast infection is actually present. Over time, a woman's body may become drug-resistant to yeast infection medication, and the real problem is never treated.

To diagnose a yeast infection, your medical provider will perform a vaginal exam. Samples of vaginal discharge are obtained for examination under a microscope. If you have recurring infections, some of the discharge may be cultured to see if yeast or another type of organism is present.

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How is it treated?

Once your medical provider has confirmed that you have a yeast infection, s/he will prescribe an antifungal pill such as Diflucan, or an over-the-counter antifungal cream or suppository such as GyneLotrimin or Monistat. These medications vary from a single-dose treatment to a week-long series of treatments. You can pick up your prescription, cream, or suppository treatment in the pharmacy at Health Services.

If you have a strong suspicion that you have a yeast infection because of past experiences with yeast infections and there has been no change in your sexual history (no new partner, no unprotected genital contact), you may elect to try one of the over-the-counter yeast treatments first. If your symptoms do not go away, you should then see your medical provider for an exam.

Sexual partners who have no symptoms of a yeast infection usually don't need treatment. A partner (male or female) with symptoms should see a provider for evaluation and concurrent treatment. While the treatment is underway, a latex barrier during sex may prevent passing the infection to a partner. However, if you are using yeast creams or suppositories, the ingredients may damage the latex of condoms, diaphragms and dental dams. So, using a latex barrier is not recommended with these treatments because the latex may break. To minimize the risk of passing the infection to a partner and to speed healing, it is generally recommended that you abstain from sexual activity until all of your symptoms have resolved.

Is there a way to prevent yeast infections?

You can help prevent a vaginal yeast infection by doing the following:

  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • If you go swimming, get out of your swimsuit as soon as possible.
  • Don't wear pads or panty-liners beyond the length of your period.
  • Don't use deodorant tampons.
  • Avoid feminine deodorant sprays and douches. They irritate the vulva and vaginal areas.
  • Wipe from front to back after urination and bowel movement.
  • Antibiotics can also cause a yeast infection, since they kill or decrease normal flora. If you need to take antibiotics, you can ask for an anti-yeast prescription, or you can buy over-the-counter creams or suppositories.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing and wear cotton, rather than synthetic, underwear.

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Is a yeast infection dangerous?

Yeast infections can cause severe discomfort but rarely cause serious health problems. Left untreated, vaginal yeast infections often clear up on their own, usually when menstruation begins. Menstrual blood raises the vaginal pH, causing the number of yeast cells to decrease because they can't grow in the pH present during menstruation.

Recurring yeast infections may be difficult to prevent or cure. There are significant differences between occasional, easily treatable yeast infections and recurring infections that seriously affect a woman's life. Women who have recurring yeast infections should be tested for underlying causes so that the appropriate treatment can be chosen.

Links you can use

For more information about yeast infections, you can visit:

Planned Parenthood

Medline PLUS

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Disclaimer: Health Education is part of Health Services at Brown University. Health Education maintains this site as a resource for Brown students. This site is not intended to replace consultation with your medical providers. No site can replace real conversation. Health Education offers no endorsement of and assumes no liability for the currency, accuracy, or availability of the information on the sites we link to or the care provided by the resources listed. Health Services staff are available to treat and give medical advice to Brown University students only. If you are not a Brown student, but are in need of medical assistance please call your own health care provider or in case of an emergency, dial 911. Please contact us if you have comments, questions or suggestions.