Vaginal Yeast Infections

A Complete Guide to Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

A vaginal infection, called vaginitis, is a common gynaecologic disorder, characterized by an inflammation of the vaginal area. It is associated with redness, vaginal itching, vaginal discharge, painful urination or painful intercourse.When a vaginal yeast infection develops inside a female’s vagina, it is known as vaginitis; when only the outer vulval area is affected, it is known as vulvitis. If the vagina and vulva are both affected, it is referred to as vulvovaginitis.

It is important to note that just as not all yeast infections are vaginal infections, not all vaginal infections are yeast infections. Many women make the mistake of assuming that their vaginal infections are yeast infections. However, vaginal infections may have different causes and fall into different categories: yeast infections, bacterial infections, trichomoniasis, atrophic vaginitis and noninfectious vaginitis.

Because of this, you should see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis if you are unsure of the type of vaginal infection you have and the appropriate course of treatment. However, many women who have had prior vaginal infections may recognize the symptoms and feel confident about treating themselves with over-the counter medication and a pharmacist’s guidance.

The most common type of vaginal infection is the vaginal yeast infection. This is why the term vaginal infection is sometimes used loosely to mean yeast infection, though medically-speaking, a vaginal infection could have a different cause and a different cure.

What is a vaginal yeast infection?

A vaginal yeast infection is a very common inflammation caused by an overabundance of yeast fungi in the vagina. Seventy-five percent of women have a vaginal yeast infection at some time in their lives. It is also known as vaginal candidiasis or genital candidiasis (pronounced can-di-dye-uh-sis). Because the external female genital organs (the vulva) are often affected by a vaginal infection, vaginitis is sometimes referred to as a vulvovaginal candidiasis. Symptoms include vaginal inflammation, redness, irritation, soreness, painful urination, and painful sexual intercourse.

Of the more than twenty species of yeast fungi, the most common fungus associated with vaginal yeast infections is the candida albicans.  Though annoying and uncomfortable, a yeast infection is not usually serious. It responds favorably to treatment with medications and generally clears up within a couple of weeks. On rare occasions, recurring yeast infections can be a sign of a more serious underlying disorder or condition, such as leukemia, diabetes, or AIDS.

Though a vaginal yeast infection is not considered a sexually transmitted disease, a small percentage of men may develop a penile rash or irritation after having intimate contact with an infected partner.

What is yeast?

Yeast, scientifically known as candida, are microscopic organisms often present in and on the human body. Adults can have three to four pounds of "good" bacteria in our bodies. In fact, yeast is commonly found in warm, moist areas of the body, such as the mouth, vagina, nailbeds, underarms, under the breast or in skin folds. It is also found in the digestive and vaginal tracts. Research has shown that up to 25% of healthy women carry yeast in the vagina without experiencing any complications or symptoms of infection.

So what is a yeast infection?

Under certain circumstances, the yeast can multiply, causing an infection, known as candidiasis (pronounced can-di-dye-uh-sis). The yeast fungus can produce toxins and poisons which can overload the immune system and make you susceptible to other diseases. About twenty varieties of yeast fungi exist, which can give rise to candidal infections of different kinds, including:

  • mouth / oral
  • skin / dermal
  • vagina / vaginal or vulva / vulval

Oral yeast infections, such as thrush, can affect both men and women, inside or around their mouths. Skin yeast infections can affect men in the form of jockey itch; they can affect babies in the form of diaper rash.  In women, yeast infections could affect only the vagina, only the vulva or both areas. A man could also develop a yeast infection on the head of the penis; this is referred to as balinitis (pronounced bal-uh-ni-tis).