We all carry yeast in/on our bodies. The most abundant place is in the large intestine. Yeast usually exits in balance with other organisms, such as bacteria, and doesn’t cause problems unless it overgrows. Some women are at risk for recurring overgrowth of yeast (candida) in the vagina and on the vulva. This is more common in women with diabetes, HIV and those who are taking medicine that suppresses the immune system or are taking long term antibiotics. There is a slight increase in risk of yeast infections in pregnancy and when taking birth control pills. There also are some strains of yeast that are relatively resistant to the over-the-counter antifungal medications available and may require a longer treatment regimen.

There are some measures you can take to help prevent yeast infections. After exercise, try to shower and change within an hour. Take time to dry the vulva area well. After being on a course of antibiotics, it’s a good idea to use either a one-day or three-day course of an over-the-counter antifungal cream. Also, talk to your doctor about prescribing a program using antifungal medication in a preventive manner. Although commonly practiced, there is no evidence that consuming yogurt or acidophilus is effective for prevention of yeast infection.

At least 50% of the time, a woman who believes she’s having recurrent yeast infections actually has a different problem. The symptoms that women have with yeast infections are similar to other problems unrelated to yeast, such as skin disorders of the vulva, allergic reactions, bacterial infections and autoimmune disorders. Unfortunately, women and doctors alike are often wrong when vaginal discharge and vulvar irritation is assumed to be a yeast infection.

So, if you have typical symptoms of a yeast infection that fail to respond to antifungal treatment or come back quickly, make an appointment to see your gynecologist, nurse midwife or nurse practitioner for further evaluation.