A vaginal yeast infection (vaginal candidiasis) is a relatively common fungal infection that causes thick, white discharge along with irritation, itchiness, and swelling of the vulva and vagina.

If left untreated, a yeast infection could lead to other health problems.

Keep reading to learn more about the downsides of ignoring yeast infections.

If left untreated, vaginal candidiasis will most likely get worse, causing itching, redness, and inflammation in the area surrounding your vagina. This may lead to a skin infection if the inflamed area becomes cracked, or if continual scratching creates open or raw areas.

Uncommon side effects of an untreated yeast infection include:

Invasive candidiasis

Invasive candidiasis occurs when the yeast infection affects other parts of the body, such as the:

  • blood
  • heart
  • brain
  • bones
  • eyes

Invasive candidiasis is usually associated with an open sore that’s exposed to a yeast infection. It isn’t typically related to vaginal yeast infections. It can cause serious health complications if not promptly treated.

Candidemia

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), candidemia is one of the most common forms of invasive candidiasis in the United States. It’s also one of the most common bloodstream infections in the country.

Yeast infections are common during pregnancy due to fluctuating hormones. If you’re pregnant and think you may have a yeast infection, see a doctor so that you can get the right diagnosis and treatment.

Topical antifungals are safe to use during pregnancy, but you won’t be able to take oral antifungal medications.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), oral fluconazole (Diflucan) taken during the first trimester of pregnancy may cause birth defects. A 2016 study also linked the use of oral fluconazole taken during pregnancy with an increased risk of miscarriage.

A mild yeast infection is expected to clear up in a few days to a week. Moderate to severe infections may take 2 to 3 weeks.

Can yeast infections go away on their own?

There’s a possibility that a yeast infection can go away on its own. The probability varies from person to person.

If you decide not to treat the infection, however, it might get worse. There’s also the possibility that you’ve misdiagnosed your condition, and what you thought was candidiasis was a more serious problem.

According to the Mayo Clinic, 75 percent of women will experience a vaginal yeast infection at some point in their lifetime.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) indicates that about 5 percent of women will experience recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis (RVVC). This is defined as four or more vaginal yeast infections in 1 year.

RVVC can occur in healthy women, but it’s more common in women with diabetes or weak immune systems from conditions such as HIV.

According to the HHS, about 66 percent of women who buy yeast infection medicine don’t actually have a yeast infection.

The symptoms may be caused by an allergic reaction or irritation due to sensitivity to tampons, soaps, powders, or perfume. Or they may have another vaginal infection, such as:

You should see a doctor if you’re not 100 percent sure that you have a yeast infection. They may diagnose you with a yeast infection, or they may discover a more serious condition.

If you’re treating what you think is a yeast infection without doctor diagnosis and it doesn’t clear up in a week or two, see a doctor. The medication you’re using may not be strong enough, or you may not have a yeast infection.

You should also visit a doctor if the infection returns in a couple of months. Having more than one yeast infection in a year could be an indication of an underlying medical condition.

Don’t put off seeing a doctor if your symptoms include:

Vaginal yeast infection should be properly diagnosed and treated. If left untreated, a yeast infection may lead to health problems, such as:

  • skin infections
  • fatigue
  • oral thrush
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • invasive candidiasis

Diagnosis is a critical step, as the symptoms of a yeast infection are similar to more serious conditions, such as:

  • bacterial vaginosis
  • chlamydia
  • gonorrhea