Learn about the various symptoms and causes of yeast infections.
The symptoms of a yeast infection can range from mild itching to serious complications like painful ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract. While we most often associate a yeast infection with a vaginal yeast infection in women, other types of yeast infections affect other parts of the body in both men and women. Vaginal yeast infections, however, are the most common type of yeast infection, with the National Institute of Allergies and Infections Diseases estimating that 75% will have at least one vaginal yeast infection in their lifetime.
Yeast infections occur when an overabundance of Candida, a type of fungus normally found in the body in small amounts, results in an infection. Vaginal yeast infections in women are quite common and have several causes. One cause is antibiotics, which may kill the "good" bacteria in the vagina that keep Candida at in check, triggering a rise in fungus levels. Anything that changes the acidity of the vagina can trigger a fungus imbalance or yeast infection. Steroid drugs, oral contraceptives, pregnancy, illness and even stress are just some of the factors that can affect the vagina's acidity.
Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include itching, burning, redness and swelling of the vulva and pain when urinating or during sex. Another symptom of a yeast infection in women is vaginal discharge that is thick, lumpy, white and odorless.
Vaginal yeast infection symptoms can mimic the signs of sexually transmitted diseases, so women with these symptoms should see their doctor for a proper diagnosis. Doctors usually recommend antifungal medications to treat symptoms of vaginal yeast infections. Both prescription and nonprescription antifungal drugs are available in a variety of forms, including creams, suppositories, oral medications and ointments.
Yeast infections are not limited to the vaginal area. They can affect other parts of the body in children, men and women. For example, in a warm, moist environment, Candida levels on the skin can become unbalanced and cause a candidal skin infection leading to a painful, itchy rash.
Thrush is a candidal infection in the mouth. In a patient with thrush, symptoms of a yeast infection include painful white patches inside the mouth and on the tongue.
Yeast infections caused by Candida also can affect a person's internal organs, like the heart, eyes, kidneys, liver and lungs. This is more common in people whose immune systems are compromised by other illnesses like cancer or AIDS. Esophagitis, for example, is a yeast infection in the gastrointestinal tract that is most often seen in AIDS patients. Symptoms of this yeast infection are painful ulcers in the mouth, esophagus and stomach that make swallowing difficult and may lead to dehydration.
Another serious condition is yeast infection of the blood, as the infection can then spread to the brain. Symptoms range from a fever to changes in mental function to behavioral problems.
At normal levels, Candida belongs to just one of the many groups of organisms present in our bodies. But when their levels are thrown off-balance, a yeast infection may develop. Anyone with symptoms of a yeast infection should get medical advice from a professional healthcare provider to avoid the risk of serious complications.