Vaginal yeast infection: Overview, Causes

Definition

Vaginal yeast infection is an infection of the vagina, most commonly due to the fungus Candida albicans.

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Most women will have a vaginal yeast infection at some time. Candida albicans is a common type of fungus. It is often present in small amounts in the vagina, mouth, digestive tract, and on the skin. Usually it does not cause disease or symptoms.

Candida and the many other germs or microorganisms that normally live in the vagina keep each other in balance. However, when the vagina has certain favorable conditions, the number of Candida albicans increases, leading to a yeast infection.

Some of these favorable conditions include:

  • Antibiotics used to treat other types of infections change the normal balance between organisms in the vagina by decreasing the number of protective bacteria.
  • Being pregnant, having diabetes, or being obese all create conditions that help yeast grow more easily.

Vaginal candidiasis is not a sexually transmitted disease. However, a small number of men will develop symptoms such as itching and a rash on the penis after having sexual contact with an infected partner.

Having many vaginal yeast infections may be a sign of other health problems. Other vaginal infections and discharges can be mistaken for a vaginal yeast infection.

Repeat infections that occur immediately after treatment, or a yeast infection that does not respond to any treatment, may be an early sign that a person is infected with HIV.

Pictures & Images

Candida, flourescent stain

This microscopic film shows a fluorescent stain of Candida. Candida is a yeast (fungus) that causes mild disease, but in immunocompromised individuals it may cause life-threatening illness. (Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Yeast infections

Yeast infectionsYeast infections may follow a course of antibiotics that were prescribed for another purpose. The antibiotics change the normal “balance” between organisms in the vagina by suppressing the growth of protective bacteria that normally have an antifungal effect.

Secondary infection

Secondary infectionSecondary infection occurs during or after treatment of a primary infection because the normal bacterial flora is destroyed, allowing yeast to flourish.

Uterus

Uterus

The uterus is a hollow muscular organ located in the female pelvis between the bladder and rectum. The ovaries produce the eggs that travel through the fallopian tubes. Once the egg has left the ovary it can be fertilized and implant itself in the lining of the uterus. The main function of the uterus is to nourish the developing fetus prior to birth.

Female reproductive anatomy

Female reproductive anatomy

External structures of the female reproductive anatomy include the labium minora and majora, the vagina and the clitoris. Internal structures include the uterus, ovaries and cervix.

Normal uterine anatomy (cut section)

Normal uterine anatomy (cut section)

The uterus is a muscular organ with thick walls, two upper openings to the fallopian tubes and an inferior opening to the vagina.


Review Date : 11/1/2009
Reviewed By : Linda Vorvick, MD, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, WA; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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