Yeast infections are a common female condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 75 percent of women will experience a vaginal yeast infection at least once in their lifetime. Moreover, yeast infections may be a sign of diabetes. In fact, a gynecologist is often first to discover diabetes.
What Causes Yeast Infection
Vaginal yeast infection is an infection of the vagina due to an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans. A healthy vagina always contains bacteria and yeast. However, when the balance between the two is off the yeast can multiply and cause symptoms of a yeast infection. This imbalance can happen if you are taking antibiotics used to treat another infection, are pregnant, obese, or have diabetes.
Infections, in general, appear to be more common in people with diabetes when blood glucose – also, called blood sugar, control is poor. High blood glucose above 180 – 220 mg/dl is associated with a weakened immune system. Moreover, a vaginal yeast infection can be more frequent in people with a compromised immune system. That’s because high sugar levels also feed the yeast. As the blood sugar spikes, so does the level of yeast in the vagina. This imbalance between the bacteria and yeast increases a women’s risk for a vaginal yeast infection.
It should be noted that a yeast infection is not considered a sexually transmitted infection(STI) because you can get a yeast infection without having sex. However, some men will develop symptoms such as itching and a rash on the penis after having sexual contact with an infected partner.
The most common symptom of a vaginal yeast infection is extreme itchiness in and around the vagina. You may also experience an unusual discharge, and pain during urination or intercourse. Some women have only a few of these symptoms which can range from mild to severe.
For most women vaginal yeast infections are easy to treat, taking on a few days to resolve. However, some may take up to two weeks to clear. Symptoms of yeast infection are similar to other vaginal infections and STIs. If you have a more serious infection and it’s not a yeast infection, it can lead to significant health problems. An exam by your doctor or nurse is the only way to know for sure if you have a yeast infection and not a more serious type of infection.
Once a yeast infection has been treated, the following steps can help prevent future infections:
- Keep your blood sugar as close to your target range as often as possible. As noted above yeast feed off sugar.
- Wear underwear made of cotton or other breathable fabrics. Avoid tight-fitting pants.
- Avoid scented soaps, douches, and scented tampons and pads. These products can alter vaginal acidity level, upsetting the natural balance of yeast and bacteria.
- Be sure to dry well after bathing and keep genitals and skin folds clean and dry throughout the day.
- Eat yogurt or try probiotic supplements.
Vaginal yeast infections are a common female condition that 3 out of 4 women will experience at one point in their lifetime. Uncontrolled diabetes changes the vaginal environment, weakens the immune system, and increases the risk for vaginal yeast infection.
An award-winning registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of the Diabetes Guide to Enjoying Foods of the World; The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes.