What Is a Vaginal Yeast Infection?
The human body is home to millions of yeast organisms, many of which are considered “good” as far as our health is concerned. Consider this: Mushrooms and the type of yeast used to make beer and bread both have beneficial roles, improving our immune systems and helping produce food, respectively.
The species of yeast responsible for causing yeast infections is a strain called Candida albicans, which can lead to an overgrowth known as candidiasis. All strains of yeast are types of fungi, which technically aren’t plants at all because they don’t use chlorophyll (a type of energy that plants use from the sun in order to grow). Yeast and fungi are also unique and different from plants because they can actually make their own food, which is precisely how they multiply and spread within the body.
Vaginal yeast infections (also known as vaginal candidiasis, vulvovaginal candidiasis or candidal vulvovaginitis) are caused by the candid fungus. They are a type of vaginitis, which means inflammation or infection of the vagina. Vaginal yeast infections that keep coming back are known as recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis (RVVC). While there are a number of different health conditions that are categorized together under the broad term of vaginitis (including bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis and non-infectious vaginitis), vaginal yeast infections are the most common type.
Some women struggle with chronic vulvar pain known as vulvodynia. While this condition can be aggravated by yeast infections, and is sometimes mistaken for a yeast infection, it is a different condition that causes redness and burning of the vulva. The cause of vulvodynia is not well-understood, but there are treatment options available.
Vaginal Yeast Infection Symptoms
Yeast infections of all kinds tend to develop in areas of the body where conditions are most favorable for yeast and mold to reproduce easily. Yeast and fungus thrive in moist conditions, so damp “folds” of the body (think areas where you sweat a lot) are usually more prone to infections and outbreaks, including:
- the mouth and throat
- anal area
- navel (belly button)
- nasal cavity and around the nose
- within the ears
- fingernails and toenails
- in between fingers and toes
- digestive tract
When yeast overgrows in the vagina, symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection can develop, including:
- vaginal itching (sometimes very uncomfortable and severe)
- vaginal discharge that’s white, thick, clumpy and odorless (while not pleasant to visualize, some people describe it as looking like cottage or ricotta cheese)
- irritated skin around the opening to the vagina (vulva and labia), redness and swelling
- slight bleeding
- vaginal pain, especially during intercourse or during menstruation
- pain when going to the bathroom or when urinating
- sometimes a slight smell that’s unusual
Usually, yeast infections are obvious and somewhat uncomfortable, especially if left untreated, and the symptoms continue to worsen. However, some people don’t realize they have a vaginal yeast infection or mistake it for another problem, like a urinary tract infection, side effects from birth control pillsor irregular periods, or a sexually transmitted disease, for example.
When candida yeast multiplies, it’s capable of spreading to different parts of the body and causing all types of problems. Just like you can experience a vaginal yeast infection caused by overgrowth of Candida albicans in the genitals, “candida virus” can take over your digestive system too. This is like a form of an internal digestive yeast infection and causes symptoms such as fatigue, digestive upset, changes in appetite or food cravings.
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