What is a Fungal Yeast Infection?

Eric Stolze

A fungal yeast infection is typically an overgrowth of a fungus called Candida albicans in the vagina, mouth or skin. People who contract a fungal yeast infection may also develop the infection in the bloodstream or esophagus in some instances. A fungal yeast infection can cause irritation and swelling.

Common symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include itching and burning sensations.
Common symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include itching and burning sensations.

Most people have yeast in many parts of their bodies, but the immune system usually controls this fungus and keeps it from growing into an infection. Women, though, often develop yeast infections in their vaginas at different points in their lives. Common symptoms of a fungal yeast infection of the vagina include painful urination and pain during sexual intercourse as well as redness, burning and swelling of a woman’s vagina and vulva. In some case, a woman may notice a thick vaginal discharge that is whitish in color. The mildness or severity of these symptoms can vary, and some female patients may only develop some of these symptoms.

A fluid sample from a vaginal swab can be examined under a microscope to diagnose a yeast infection.
A fluid sample from a vaginal swab can be examined under a microscope to diagnose a yeast infection.

A woman’s risk of developing a fungal yeast infection of the vagina can increase due to illness, a lack of sleep and stress. In some cases, women who eat a lot of sugary foods or have other poor eating habits may have a greater risk of getting this type of infection. Women who are pregnant or going through a menstrual period may also be more likely to contract this kind of infection. Diseases such as diabetes and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can also make a woman more susceptible to the development of a vaginal yeast infection. Medications such as steroids, antibiotics and birth control pills may also place a woman at a greater risk of developing a yeast infection.

Women taking birth control pills are at a higher risk for developing yeast infections.
Women taking birth control pills are at a higher risk for developing yeast infections.

In many instances, a physician typically diagnoses a fungal yeast infection of the vagina after evaluating a woman’s symptoms and conducting a pelvic examination to take a closer look at any vaginal discharge or swelling. Doctors may also use a swab to take a fluid sample from a woman’s vagina. The sample is typically viewed under a microscope or sent to a laboratory for tests that can confirm the presence of a yeast infection in many cases. Patients with this type of infection usually use antifungal medications such as ointments, creams or suppositories that are typically available over the counter in many stores. Some doctors may also prescribe an oral antifungal medicine such as fluconazole, but pregnant women with a yeast infection are usually not prescribed this type of drug.

Yeast infections may be treated with over-the-counter medication taken in the form of vaginal suppositories.
Yeast infections may be treated with over-the-counter medication taken in the form of vaginal suppositories.
Some anti-fungal medications are available today in pill form, although suppositories remain popular.
Some anti-fungal medications are available today in pill form, although suppositories remain popular.

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