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What Causes Yeast Infections in Women

What Causes Yeast Infections in Women

Candidiasis is an infection that is primarily caused by a single-celled fungus or yeast called Candida albicans. This write-up provides information on the contributing factors and treatment of yeast infections in women.
Smita Pandit
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
Yeast is a naturally-occurring, single-celled fungi that can be found in various parts of the human body. Though it is normal to have a small number of yeast cells in the mucous membranes of the body, the problem arises when these yeast cells start multiplying. A beneficial bacterium called Lactobacillus acidophilus helps in keeping a check on the growth of strains of yeast in the mucous membranes. If this balance is disrupted, and population of friendly bacteria decreases, it leads to a spurt in the growth of yeast cells. Though these infections are common in women, men can also get affected. Being aware about the causes or risk factors can help in lowering the incidence of candidiasis, which is a common infection that occurs due to the overgrowth of Candida albicans.
Contributing Factors
Though strains of yeast are present in certain parts of the body, these don't pose a threat unless they start multiplying. The risk of these infections increases under the following circumstances:
Use of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are widely used for the treatment of bacterial infections. Though antibiotics can kill the harmful bacteria and stop them from proliferating, even the friendly or beneficial bacteria get destroyed in the process. When the number of friendly bacteria decreases considerably, the balance of microbial gut gets disrupted and the yeast cells start growing rapidly. The disruption of this balance between the bacteria and yeast cells, makes one vulnerable to oral thrush or vaginal candidiasis, which are yeast infections of the oral cavity and vagina respectively.
Hormonal Imbalance
It is believed that women who have high levels of estrogen could be susceptible to these infections. Ovulation, the use of birth control pills, or hormone therapy could give rise to estrogen predominance, which in turn could make women susceptible to candidiasis. High estrogen levels is believed to be one of the prominent causes of such infections in pregnant women.
Elevated Blood Sugar Levels
Women diagnosed with diabetes mellitus are also at a risk of developing such an infection. This is mainly attributed to the effect of diabetes on the vaginal pH. The pH of the vagina normally ranges anywhere between 3.8 to 4.5. The friendly bacteria play a great role in maintaining this slightly acidic environment and prevent yeast cells from growing. Their growth is suppressed by an acidic environment in the vagina. In case of women who are diabetic, the vaginal secretions contain high levels of sugar, which raises the vaginal pH. This increases the risk of candidiasis. Excessive consumption of foods rich in sugar can lead to growth of yeast in women who are not affected by diabetes.
Wearing Tight Clothing
Wearing tight underpants that are made from synthetic fabrics can dampen and irritate the vagina. This can cause the yeast cells to multiply. Precautions should be taken to keep the genital region clean and dry. One must refrain from the use of perfumed feminine sprays, as these can irritate the area.
Precautionary Measures
The symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include vaginal itching, pain, thick whitish-gray vaginal discharge, and burning sensation during urination. Since these symptoms might also arise due to bacterial vaginitis, it would be best to consult a doctor. The treatment of candidiasis involves the topical application of antifungal creams such as butoconazole, clotrimazole, miconazole, or terconazole. These might have to be used for 3-7 days. In case of severe symptoms and recurring infections, the medicine might have to be taken for 14 days. At times, oral antifungal tablets might be prescribed as well. Pregnant women must not take oral tablets should not be taken without a prescription.
Consuming probiotic food can also help in suppressing the growth of harmful bacteria and yeast cells. One can also try certain home remedies. Antifungal agents such as grapefruit seed extract, caprylic acid, or olive leaf extract can be used. Besides these, precautionary measures must be taken. Women must refrain from using perfumed feminine sprays and also keep their blood sugar levels in control. Keeping the genital area clean and dry will also help. Wearing loose clothing made from cotton will also prove beneficial.
Though candidiasis is not believed to be a sexually-transmitted disease, it would be in one's best interest to refrain from having sexual intercourse until one completely recovers from the infection. Since this infection can also affect males with a compromised immune system, it would be best to have safe intercourse.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.