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Yeast infections are extremely common in women of all ages and can occur regardless of sexual activity. That’s why it’s important to know what causes yeast infections, as well as the symptoms and treatment options.

The Basics of Yeast Infections

About 75% of women experience at least one yeast infection in their lifetime, and fortunately these infections are very easy to diagnose and treat.

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Yeast infections are caused when there is too much fungus in the vagina, a fungus called Candida that is found in low amounts on the skin and in the vagina of the human body. In low amounts, Candida does not cause illnesses in the vagina, but an overgrowth of Candida may lead to yeast infection. Let’s discuss what can cause too much Candida.

What Causes Overgrowth of Candida in the Vagina?

Causes of yeast infections include taking antibiotics, increased moisture in the vagina from douching or daily activities, and uncontrolled type 2 diabetes. Let’s take a look at each cause of yeast infections and exactly how each fosters an environment for Candida overgrowth.

Antibiotics

A woman is prescribed antibiotics to target and kill bacteria in her body that is causing an illness.

Antibiotics will kill the bacteria causing her illness but can also kill the Lactobacillus in the vagina. Lactobacillus is a bacterium that helps to keep Candida in balance, but decreased amounts of Lactobacillus leads to increased amounts of Candida resulting in a yeast infection. Lactobacillus creates a slightly acidic environment in the vagina, which keeps Candida from overgrowing. Reduction of Lactobacillus decreases the acidity of the vagina, promoting an overgrowth of Candida.

If the antibiotics kill Lactobacillus, the vagina becomes less acidic, spawning more growth of Candida and triggering a yeast infection. When taking antibiotics, women should take probiotics or eat yogurt that contains Lactobacillus to maintain the normal level of bacteria in the vagina.

Excess Moisture

The vagina is a naturally moist environment, but excess moisture encourages Candida growth. Fungi flourish in moist environments, so if the vagina has more moisture than usual, a yeast infection can occur. Increased moisture in the vagina from douching and daily activities can cause an overgrowth of Candida. Douching is the act of rinsing out the vagina with a solution.

Douches are sold over the counter, and some women use douches to get rid of unwanted odor and feel clean. It is recommended that women avoid douching and wash with mild soaps and warm water to get rid of unwanted odor. The additional moisture in the vaginal area from daily activities, such as working out and swimming, can also induce Candida overgrowth, which is why it is recommended that women wear cotton underwear and change out of wet bathing suits and workout clothes as soon as possible.

Type 2 Diabetes

Increased levels of Candida in the vagina are more common in women with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is caused when your body does not produce enough insulin to keep your blood sugar at a normal level. Women with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes have higher levels of sugar in their bodies, which means these women have more sugar in their vaginas. Candida flourishes in environments with moisture and sugar, so women with type 2 diabetes should maintain a normal blood sugar level to prevent increased amounts of sugar in the vagina.

Now that we know what causes a yeast infection, let’s discuss the signs and symptoms of yeast infections.

Symptoms

The most common symptom of a yeast infection is vaginal itching, but other symptoms include burning, redness, and swelling of the vagina. Women may also experience cottage cheese-like discharge that does not have an odor and pain during sexual intercourse and urination. Women who have not had a yeast infection before are encouraged to see a doctor for diagnosis before taking any treatments to ensure a sexually transmitted infection is not being self-diagnosed as a yeast infection. It is important to note that yeast infections are not sexually transmitted infections, and women who are not sexually active can be diagnosed with a yeast infection.

Treatments

After a woman’s symptoms are diagnosed as a yeast infection, the treatment options include over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications. OTC treatments are antifungal medications that kill Candida and return the fungus level back to normal.

Clotrimazole, miconazole, terconazole, and nystatin are all common OTC medicines that come in different forms such as creams (applied directly to the vagina), suppositories (deposited inside the vagina), and pills (taken orally). These OTC treatments come in one-, three-, and seven-day treatment options.Prescription medications can also kill Candida, and they are prescribed to women who do not respond to OTC options or have recurring yeast infections. The most commonly used prescription medication used to treat yeast infections is fluconazole, and a patient is given 150 milligrams of fluconazole once orally.

Symptoms should improve within 24 hours but do not disappear immediately. If symptoms do not improve within 7 days, the patient should see a doctor.

Lesson Summary

Yeast infections are caused by the overgrowth of Candida and are not sexually-transmitted infections. Yeast infections can be caused by taking antibiotics, increased moisture in the vagina due to douching and daily activity, and uncontrolled type 2 diabetes. Antibiotics kill the Lactobacillus, which is a bacterium that prevents the overgrowth of Candida and without which Candida grows uncontrolled. Douching and activities such as swimming and working out can increase moisture in the vagina, promoting Candida growth. Uncontrolled type 2 diabetes causes yeast infections, because high blood sugar results in more sugar in the vagina, creating the ideal environment for Candida growth.

Symptoms of a yeast infection include vaginal itching, burning, redness, and swelling, cottage cheese-like discharge, and painful sex and urination. Treatments of yeast infections are over-the-counter antifungal medications that come in various forms (creams, suppositories, and pills) and prescription medications taken orally.In order to prevent yeast infections, women are advised to take probiotics or eat yogurt with Lactobacillus while on antibiotics. They should also avoid douching, remove wet clothing immediately, and wear cotton underwear, and women with type 2 diabetes should manage their blood sugar.

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