What Causes Yeast Infections?

The question “what causes yeast infections?” is a common one. After all, as many as three quarters of all women will experience a yeast infection at some time or another. Many women will also go on to experience more than one yeast infection in their lifetime.

An Imbalance of Yeast and Bacteria

To know what causes yeast infections it’s important to understand what the yeast really is. The fungus “candida albicans” is something that’s normally present in the vagina, alongside various types of bacteria. In normal circumstances, the amount of bacteria and yeast stays balanced, and the vagina works healthily.

However, at times the balance between bacteria and yeast can be disrupted. When there’s less “healthy bacteria” (lactobacillus) to help curb the overgrowth of yeast, this can lead to too much yeast growing. This, in turn, is responsible for the unpleasant symptoms of yeast infection such as burning, itching and pain.

Since vaginal yeast infection is caused by bacteria, it isn’t technically a sexually transmitted disease. However, the fungus itself (candida) can be spread by sexual contact. Men and women can both suffer from an overgrowth of yeast in the genital area.

Risk Factors

Understanding what causes yeast infections also means understanding the risk factors that can make it more likely for yeast to multiply in the body:

Antibiotics: Using antibiotics puts both men and women at a greater risk of developing yeast infection. This is because it reduces amounts of the lactobacillus bacteria in the body and changes the pH level of the genitals.

Pregnancy: When women become pregnant, the levels of estrogen in the body increase, making a yeast infection more likely. High-dose estrogen birth control pills have a similar effect.

Impaired Immune System: Those who have an impaired immune system, resulting from HIV for example, are more likely to suffer from a yeast infection.

Sexual Activity: As mentioned above, sexual contact is one way in which candida may be introduced into the genital area.

Uncontrolled Diabetes: If blood sugar levels are poorly controlled in diabetes, yeast infection is more likely to develop. Keeping diabetes properly under control can reduce the risk.

Chemotherapy: Anything that causes injury to the inner vagina, such as chemotherapy, can increase the risk of yeast infection.

Other Factors: Anything that has an effect on the bacteria present in the vagina will increase the risk of candida. This can include vaginal douching or irritation from sexual intercourse.

Treating Yeast Infections

After understanding what causes yeast infections, it can be a lot easier to treat them. In general, treatments aim to help balance the levels of bacteria and fungus once more, and are generally successful. However, sometimes a type of candida other than candida albicans may be to blame, in which case the infection can be harder to treat. It’s important to visit a doctor for an official diagnosis.

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