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Vaginitis and Vaginal Infections

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Causes of Vaginal Infections continued...

Vaginal yeast infections are caused by a fungus called Candida albicans. This is also called candidiasis, genital candidiasis, or vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC). A yeast infection can spread to other parts of the body, including skin, mucous membranes, heart valves, esophagus, and other areas. It can cause life-threatening systemic infections in people with weakened immune defenses (such as women who are pregnant and people who are HIV positive, have diabetes, or are taking steroids). 

Nearly 75% of all adult women have had at least one genital yeast infection in her lifetime. Vaginal yeast infection is not considered a sexually transmitted disease, but 12% to 15% of men will develop symptoms such as itching and penile rash following sexual contact with an infected partner.

Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of normally growing fungi in the vagina that creates unpleasant symptoms. The yeast are kept under control by normally growing bacteria in the body. If the natural balance of microorganisms is disrupted, the yeast grow out of control. It is not clear how fungal infections originate, but they are not thought to be sexually transmitted. Your own natural bacteria cause this type of infection when an imbalance occurs, possibly caused by any of these events: 

    • Antibiotics use: Antibiotics destroy protective bacteria in the vagina. These bacteria normally stop the candidal organisms from overgrowing. Yeast infection may occur after you have taken a course of antibiotics for another condition such as strep throat.
    • Diabetes: Both diabetes and pregnancy make the vagina better suited for fungal growth. These conditions lower the glycogen store in certain vaginal cells. They may also raise the sugar content (and the pH) of the vagina and put you at risk for yeast infection.
    • Excessive alcohol
    • Birth control pills: Changes in the vaginal environment occur with increased hormonal levels from estrogen-containing birth control pills. This change creates an environment for the candidal fungus to grow and cause symptoms.
    • Hormonal changes such as ovulation, menopause, or pregnancy
    • Steroid use
    • Weakened immune system; having HIV/AIDS
    • Wearing underwear that is tight or non-cotton: This can increase temperature, moisture, and local irritation.
    • Use of douches, perfumed feminine hygiene sprays
    • Scratches in the vagina (during insertion of a tampon or other objects)

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