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Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(9):2189-2190

What is a vaginal yeast infection?

Vaginal yeast infections usually are caused by tiny yeast organisms that normally live in small numbers on your skin and inside your vagina. The acidity of the vagina helps keep the yeast from growing. If the vagina becomes less acidic, too many yeast can grow. This causes a vaginal infection.

The acidic balance of the vagina can be changed by your menstrual period, pregnancy, diabetes, some antibiotics, birth control pills, and steroids. Sexual activity and irritation of the vagina also seem to encourage yeast to grow.

How do I know if I have a yeast infection?

Yeast infections can be very uncomfortable, but they usually are not serious. Symptoms include the following:

  • Itching and burning in the vagina and around the vulva (the skin that surrounds your vagina)

  • A thick, white discharge that looks like cottage cheese

  • Pain during sexual intercourse

  • Swelling of the vulva

Yeast infections are so common that three out of four women will have one at some time in their lives. One half of all women have more than one infection in their lives. If you have the symptoms of a yeast infection, your doctor will probably want to talk to you about your symptoms and examine you to see if you have a yeast infection.

How are these infections treated?

Yeast infections usually are treated with medicine that you put into your vagina. This medicine may be a cream or a suppository that you put into your vagina with a special applicator. Medicine in a cream form also can be put on your vulva to help stop the itching. Medicine in a pill form that you take by mouth is also available.

Should I see my doctor every time I have a yeast infection?

You should see your doctor the first time you have symptoms of a yeast infection. It is very important to make sure that you really have a yeast infection before you start taking medicine for it. The symptoms of a yeast infection also can be symptoms of other infections, including some sexually transmitted diseases. Treating yourself for a yeast infection when you actually have another kind of infection may make your problem worse. It is important to see your doctor when you are pregnant, or think you may be pregnant, and you have symptoms of a yeast infection.

If you have had many yeast infections, talk to your doctor about using a medicine you can buy without a prescription.

How can I keep from getting another infection?

Here are some things you can do to help prevent another yeast infection:

  • Do not wear tight-fitting or synthetic-fiber clothes.

  • Wear cotton underwear.

  • Wipe from front to back after using the toilet. This may help keep the bacteria that normally live in your rectum from getting into your vagina.

  • Do not douche or use feminine hygiene sprays.

  • Avoid deodorant sanitary pads or tampons, or bubble bath, and avoid using colored or perfumed toilet paper.

  • If you get many yeast infections, your doctor may recommend you use medicines regularly for a few months to prevent more yeast infections.

Does my sex partner need to be treated?

No. Your sex partner usually does not need to be treated if you have a yeast infection.

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