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What can I do about chronic yeast infections?
I have a problem with chronic yeast infections. It seems that 7 out of every 10 sexual encounters lands me with a yeast infection. Whenever I go to a doctor, I get tested for yeast, bacteria, gonorrhea and chlamydia… the diagnosis is sometimes yeast infection and sometimes bacterial vaginosis. What else could be causing my problem? Do you have any ideas to keep my yeast infections at bay? What STDs and health issues can cause vaginal itching?
Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD on August 9, 2011
Thanks so much for your questions. Chronic yeast infections are a problem for many of women...you’re not alone. That said, to really get to the bottom of this problem, I encourage you to discuss your recurring infections with your doctor who can give your personalized input and treatment. To address your questions, I’m happy to offer some thoughts for your consideration...
What are some causes of yeast infections that keep coming back? The truth is, doctors and researchers are still trying to answer that question. But what they do know today is that many women get yeast infections after they’ve been taking antibiotics – that’s probably because the antibiotics kill some of the good bacteria in the vagina that keep the yeast cells from growing too much.
Researchers also know that women who have diabetes or who don’t have well-regulated blood sugar also often have problems with recurrent yeast infections. And women who are HIV-positive or pregnant also tend to get more yeast infections.
You said that you often get yeast infections after sexual encounters...that’s common, too. But sex doesn’t actually cause yeast infections, nor are yeast infections a sexually transmitted disease. However, sometimes having sex can change the natural bacterial balance of your vagina and make you more likely to develop a yeast infection. Some women also have a reaction to products used during sex, like a lubricant or latex.
As well, a 2003 study in the Journal of Women’s Health indicated that using saliva as a lubricant while masturbating or receiving oral sex may slightly increase the possibility of getting a yeast infection.
What steps can women take to help reduce the frequency of yeast infections?
Talk to a health care provider about getting tested. It soundslike you’re doing a great job of keeping your doctor current about your condition, and following your doctor’s instructions about testing.But if you haven’t already, I would encourage you to speak with your doctor specifically about a diabetes test and an HIV test since these conditions can make your body more prone to yeast infections. Untreated diabetes or HIV can also cause more health problems down the road.
Consider changing behaviors…and clothing. A 2004 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women were more likely to have a second yeast infection if they used pantyhose or pantyliners, if they drank a lot of cranberry juice, or if they used sexual lubricants...so it may be possible to reduce the likelihood of potential future yeast infections by changing any of these behaviors that apply to you.
Eat more healthy yogurt with “live cultures.” There’s some research that suggests that women with recurring yeast infections may benefit from eating more yogurt. That’s because the bacteria in yogurt may help keep yeast from overgrowing. That said, a 2006 review of the research couldn’t confirm the beneficial effect. So you may wish to speak with your doctor about whether to incorporate yogurt into your diet (plain yogurt without a lot of added sugar is best).
I also encourage you to check with your doctor about alternative treatments for yeast infections. After discussing your symptoms and sexual history, your doctor might decide a longer treatment or oral anti-fungal medications are right for you.
As for STDs that can cause itching...there are several. The STD with the most similar symptoms to yeast infections is trichomoniasis. This STD, sometimes called “trich,” can cause the region around the genitals to feel itchy and may sometimes cause a yellowish-green discharge. Herpes and genital warts can also cause itching in the genital region but both are typically accompanied by symptoms of reddish or skin-colored growths. To learn more about these and other common STDs, see our Expert Guides.
Thanks again for writing, and I hope this helped answer some of your questions. To resolve these issues, I encourage you to visit your doctor. Good luck and I wish you the best of health.
Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation:Management of recurrent yeast infections
Dr. Cunningham is a member of the Analyte Physicans Group. She's also a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, practicing at both Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois and at Wheaton Franciscan All Saints Medical Center in Wisconsin. An ER physician since 2000, she regularly treats patients with STDs. Dr. Cunningham was educated at Wayne State University School of Medicine and completed her Emergency Medicine residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL.