Yeast Infections: Key Q&A

Does a yeast infection always cause symptoms?
No. Some women do not exhibit any signs or symptoms of a yeast infection. However, an infection typically causes recognizable symptoms.

The most common symptoms include thick, white vaginal discharge, itching or irritation in the vagina and a redness or rash around the vulva (skin that surrounds the vagina). In addition, yeast infections may cause you to have pain during sexual intercourse or burning during urination.

Do I need to see a doctor every time I have a yeast infection?
Women usually recognize a vaginal yeast infection without getting a diagnosis from a doctor. This is especially true if they have experienced a yeast infection earlier in their lives. However, women who are exhibiting signs of a yeast infection for the first time should consult their gynecologist. The symptoms of a yeast infection are similar to more serious conditions, such as sexually transmitted disease (STDs). It is important to be sure that you have a yeast infection before you start taking medications.

Also, you need to consult a physician if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and suspect you have a yeast infection. Not all treatment medications can be taken by pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Is there a test for yeast infections?
Your physician will suspect a yeast infection based upon your symptoms. A pelvic examination will be completed to look for vaginal discharge and signs of irritation in and around the vagina. Your physician also may conduct a slide test. In this test, a sample of vaginal secretion will be removed and examined under a microscope. It will be tested for the presence of yeast organisms, such as candida.

What is the treatment for a yeast infection?

Vaginal yeast infections can be treated simply and effectively with a variety of over-the-counter medications. These antifungal medications come in various forms, including creams, ointments and suppositories.

The medications may be inserted directly into your vagina with a special applicator. Some creams or ointments can be applied to your vulva to help relieve itching or irritation. In some cases, your physician may prescribe medication in pill form.

Women who are pregnant or nursing must consult their obstetrician/gynecologist before taking any medications for yeast infections. There are some medications that may not be safe for the mother or fetus and should not be taken if you are pregnant.

How long does treatment for a yeast infection take?
Treatment for yeast infections can last anywhere from one to 14 days. You will usually notice relief from the symptoms within a few days. However, you should complete the entire course of treatment even if the symptoms subside before you have finished the medication. Treatments have an 80 to 90 percent success rate, but frequent or prolonged use of the medications can reduce their effectiveness over time.

How can yeast infections be prevented?
Yeast infections cannot always be prevented. However, you may reduce your risk of developing an infection by following some simple guidelines:

  • Wear loose-fitting undergarments made of breathable material
  • Do not stay in wet clothing
  • Avoid using vaginal sprays, deodorants or chemicals
  • Maintain proper vaginal hygiene

What should I do if I get yeast infections often?
Women who experience several yeast infections a year may want to consult with their physician. Certain conditions, such as diabetes, increase the risk of yeast infections and may need to be ruled out as a cause.

In addition, certain preventive medicines or foods may be recommended. Using boric acid capsules as vaginal suppositories or eating yogurt with live Lactobacillus acidophilus cultures may help prevent recurrent infections.

Reviewed by Joanne Poje Tomasulo, M.D., ACOG

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