How common are yeast infections?

A yeast infection, also known as candidiasis, is a type of fungal infection. It can cause irritation, itchiness, and discharge.

Vaginal yeast infections are most common. 3 in 4 women will have at least one vaginal yeast infection in their lifetime. About half of all women will experience two or more.

A number of things can increase your risk of yeast infection, including conditions such as diabetes. Keep reading to learn why this happens and what you can do to prevent it.

Researchers in a 2013 study found a significant link between high blood sugar and vaginal yeast infections. This study focused on women and children with type 1 diabetes.

According to a 2014 study, women with type 2 diabetes may be at an even higher risk of vaginal yeast infection. It’s unclear whether this is due to higher overall levels of blood sugar or another factor.

Yeast feeds off of sugar. If your diabetes isn’t well-controlled, your blood sugar levels can spike to unreasonably high levels. This increase in sugar can cause yeast to overgrow, particularly in the vaginal area. Your body may develop a yeast infection in response.

Maintaining your blood sugar levels may help reduce your risk of infection. If you have diabetes, you should undergo periodic screening for vaginal yeast infections. Some types of candidiasis can lead to serious health complications if left untreated. Talk with your doctor about the best screening schedule for you.

Your vagina naturally contains a mix of yeast and bacteria. The yeast will remain in check as long as the balance between the two isn’t disrupted.

A number of things can interfere with this balance and cause your body to produce an excessive amount of yeast. This includes:

  • taking certain antibiotics
  • taking birth control pills
  • undergoing hormone therapy
  • having an impaired immune system
  • engaging in sexual activity
  • becoming pregnant

Anyone can develop a yeast infection, regardless of whether they’re sexually active. Yeast infections aren’t considered to be sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

See your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of a yeast infection. They can help you treat it and also rule out other causes for your symptoms.

Vaginal yeast infections have many of the same symptoms as STIs, so it’s important that you’re sure of your diagnosis. If left untreated, STIs can have more serious and long-term consequences.

During your appointment, your doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms. They will also ask about any medications you may be taking or other conditions that you may have.

After assessing your medical profile, your doctor will perform a pelvic exam. They first examine your external genital area for any signs of infection. Then they insert a speculum into your vagina. This holds your vaginal walls open, allowing your doctor to look at the inside of your vagina and cervix.

Your doctor may also take a sample of your vaginal fluid to determine the type of fungus that’s causing the infection. Knowing the type of fungus behind the infection can help your doctor prescribe the most effective treatment option for you.

Mild to moderate yeast infections can usually be cleared up with a topical treatment such as a cream, ointment, or suppository. The course of treatment can last up to seven days depending on the medication.

Common options include:

  • butoconazole (Gynazole-1)
  • clotrimazole (Gyne-Lotrimin)
  • miconazole (Monistat 3)
  • terconazole (Terazol 3)

These medications are available over the counter and by prescription.

Your doctor may also recommend a single-dose oral medication such as fluconazole (Diflucan). If your symptoms are more severe, they may suggest that you take two single doses three days apart to help clear the infection.

Your doctor may also instruct you to use a condom during sex to avoid spreading the infection to your partner.

Severe yeast infections

More severe yeast infections may also be treated with a long-course vaginal therapy. This typically lasts up to 17 days. Your doctor may recommend a cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository medication.

If these don’t clear up the infection, or it returns within eight weeks, it’s important to let your doctor know.

Recurring yeast infections

If your yeast infection comes back, your doctor will work with you to develop a maintenance plan to prevent yeast overgrowth. This plan may include:

  • a two-week course of medication to start
  • a once-weekly fluconazole tablet for six months
  • a once-weekly clotrimazole suppository for six months

Treatment for women with diabetes

Researchers in a 2007 study found that more than half of women with diabetes who develop yeast infections have a specific species of the fungus, Candida glabrata. They also found that this fungus responds better to a long course of suppository medication.

If you’d prefer to give a suppository medication a try, discuss this with your doctor. They can help you determine whether this is the best treatment option for you.

Other than keeping an eye on your blood sugar, your preventative methods are the same as they are for women without diabetes.

You may be able to reduce your risk for vaginal yeast infections by:

  • avoiding tight-fitting clothing, which can make the vaginal area more moist
  • wearing cotton underwear, which can help keep the moisture level under control
  • changing out of swimsuits and exercise clothing as soon as you’re done using them
  • avoiding very hot baths or sitting in hot tubs
  • avoiding douches or vaginal sprays
  • changing your tampons or menstrual pads frequently
  • avoiding scented menstrual pads or tampons

Keep reading: Home remedies for vaginal yeast infections »

If you suspect that you have a yeast infection, consult your doctor. They can help you isolate the cause of your symptoms and put you on the treatment path that’s best for you. With treatment, vaginal yeast infections typically clear up within 14 days.

Talk with your doctor about how your diabetes may be a factor in causing yeast infections. They can assess your diabetes management plan and help correct any lapses in care. They may also be able to recommend better practices that can aid in controlling your blood sugar levels.

Learn more: How diabetes affects women: Symptoms, risks, and more »