Friday, June 21, 2024

What Causes Recurrent Yeast Infections? Ob-Gyns Weigh In

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Editor’s Note: We at PS recognize that people of many genders and identities have vaginas. For this particular story, we interviewed experts who generally referred to people who experience vaginal yeast infections as women.

The itchiness of a vaginal yeast infection is hard to forget — so much so that you remember exactly how many times you’ve dealt with the health issue. While yeast infections are considered very common, they also can be inconvenient — especially when they happen repeatedly. If you find that you’re dealing with yeast infections multiple times a year, you may be asking yourself: “why do I keep getting yeast infections every month?”

This is typically called a recurrent yeast infections and the causes of frequent yeast infections can vary. To help break down the issue, we spoke to 2 ob-gyns about recurrent yeast infections, including what causes recurrent yeast infections and how they’re commonly treated.

Experts Featured in This Article:

Somi Javaid, MD, is a board-certified ob-gyn and the founder and chief medical officer of HerMD.

Amy Roskin, MD, is the chief medical officer at Seven Starling.

Recurrent Yeast Infection Symptoms

According to Somi Javaid, MD, board-certified ob-gyn and the founder and chief medical officer of HerMD, recurrent yeast infections are defined as yeast infections that occur four or more times per year. She also mentions that “less than five percent of women are diagnosed with recurrent yeast infections.” Symptoms of a recurrent yeast infection are similar to that of a regular yeast infection, per Amy Roskin, MD, chief medical officer at Seven Startling, and can include:

  • Itching
  • Burning on the vulva
  • A swollen vulva
  • White, clumpy, odorless discharge

The only difference between a typical yeast infection and a recurrent yeast infection is the duration and frequency of the symptoms, Dr. Roskin says. As for how the issue is diagnosed, Dr. Javaid mentions that this process typically involves your healthcare provider taking a sample of vaginal fluid during a pelvic exam. From there, they can confirm that the infection is caused by yeast. “I have been practicing nearly 20 years and will tell you most of my patients know when they have one, especially if they have experienced an infection in the past,” Dr. Javaid says.

What Causes Recurrent Yeast Infections?

In general, yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of fungus (yeast, typically Candida albicans) in the vagina, Dr. Javaid explains. If you’re dealing with yeast infections that keep coming back, here are a few potential common causes:

A recent course of antibiotics.

If you’re in the middle of or just finished up a course of antibiotics, you may have a culprit for your yeast infection. “Broad-spectrum antibiotics, which kill a range of bacteria, also kill healthy bacteria in your vagina, leading to overgrowth of yeast,” per the Mayo Clinic.

Your clothing or environment.

If you’re in a humid environment or are often wear tight clothes that trap moisture and heat, yeast infections can fester as yeast can “overgrow in warm or humid conditions,” per Johns Hopkins Medicine.

It wasn’t treated the first time around.

A recurrent yeast infection could be a sign that the infection wasn’t initially treated properly the first time around.

“Sometimes a woman may have a yeast infection caused by a rarer type of candida that may be resistant to the common treatment options that providers may prescribe,” Dr. Javaid tells PS. “All of this can be avoided by collecting a vaginal sample and testing it to determine what type of infection and what type of candida is present in the vagina.”

Certain preexisting conditions or a change in immune status.

Diabetes, for example, is actually a risk factor for developing yeast infections. “Women with poorly controlled blood sugar are at greater risk of yeast infections than women with well-controlled blood sugar,” the Mayo Clinic reports. Women with lowered immunity from another condition or infection are more likely to get yeast infections, the clinic also reports. “The vagina has flora or a microbiome of bacterial colonies that maintain the acidic environment of a healthy vagina. When the flora is disrupted, a woman is more likely to experience a vaginal infection,” Dr. Javaid says.

It’s not actually a yeast infection.

Dr. Javaid also points out that not all vaginal infections are caused by yeast. Other conditions that look like a yeast infection include STIs and BV, or bacterial vaginosis. The conditions can also occur simultaneously where you can also have both a yeast infection and BV or an STI.

How Are Recurrent Yeast Infections Treated?

If you think you have a recurrent yeast infection, Dr. Roskin recommends reaching out to a licensed healthcare provider. Using over-the-counter medications might not be the right solution. According to Dr. Javaid, sometimes yeast may be resistant to OTC treatments, or they might not be potent enough. “Also, a patient needs to be sure of the right diagnosis,” she says. A prolonged course of antifungal medication may be necessary for treating recurrent yeast infections, she adds. However, your doctor or healthcare provider can help you determine the best course of action. “In a pinch, if a patient is miserable I tell my patients to use an OTC treatment until they can get in to see their provider,” Dr. Javaid tells PS. But ultimately, it’s always best to see an expert.

Victoria Moorhouse is a beauty content director for Vox Media, where she oversees content for L’Oréal’s and She was previously a senior editor for PS, where she worked with partners to cover health, fitness, and wellness. She’s also contributed many beauty articles to the site.

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