Yeast infection 101

By: Alison Dunn Oct 18, 2010
  Article

Think you’ve got a yeast infection? Maybe not. An accurate diagnosis can help clear up yeast once and for all.

Be honest, ladies. When you’ve got a yeast infection, you know it, right? Wrong, says Dr. Juliet Ghodsian, a naturopathic family physician practicing at Sage Clinic in Vancouver.

According to Ghodsian, yeast infections are often misdiagnosed in women, particularly when a woman is self-diagnosing and treating herself with over-the-counter antifungals and vaginal suppositories.

“Many women are chronically treating something that’s not actually a vaginal yeast infection,” says Ghodsian. “It’s very often misdiagnosed.”

She says her patients tend to fall into three different categories. The first are women who worry that any slightly thicker vaginal discharge or secretion is a yeast infection and treat at the first sign of discharge. But often, what they’re experiencing is the normal, cyclical process of vaginal secretions.

For example, around ovulation, vaginal discharge is often thicker and whiter than at other times of the month. Women need to learn more about these secretions, Ghodsian adds, and know what type of discharge to expect during certain points in their cycle so as not to confuse it with a yeast infection.

The second category of women are those who are experiencing symptoms of a yeast infection, but it’s not yet a full-blown yeast infection. Generally, this is caused by an imbalance of the bacteria in the vaginal environment, and can easily be cured with probiotics rather than over-the-counter antifungals.

Finally, Ghodsian says there are the women who are experiencing full-blown yeast infections that are often chronic and recurring. The major symptoms, she says, are itching, burning and pain in the vulvar area. While there is also a thicker, white discharge, it’s not the most telltale symptom, she adds.

Treating the cause

If you are experiencing pain, itching, burning, discomfort during or after intercourse and a thick discharge, you could very well have a yeast infection. If that is the case, Ghodsian recommends the following:

1. Get an accurate diagnosis. Traditional over-the-counter antifungal medications used to treat yeast infections often just mask the symptoms or temporarily relieve them. If you want to rid yourself of them for good, you need to make sure what you’re experiencing is really a yeast infection and not some other type of infection.

2. Find the cause. Chronic yeast infections can be caused by a number of things: the birth control pill, antibiotic use, high levels of candida in the body, diabetes, adrenal disease, thyroid disease and more. “If you’ve had five or six in the past year, you need to look for those underlying conditions,” Ghodsian says. “You want to see a healthcare practitioner to make sure there’s nothing going on.”

3. An ounce of prevention. Once you’ve cleared up the infection with your healthcare practitioner’s recommended course of treatment, it’s time to prevent future infections. Ghodsian recommends you try the following:

  • Wear cotton underwear
  • Try not to sleep in underwear
  • Limit your intake of refined carbohydrates, juice, alcohol and other fermented foods
  • Up your intake of good bacteria with yogurt or by supplementing with a high-quality probiotic
  • Eliminate sugar from your diet, as candida (the bad bacteria that causes yeast infections) lives on sugar.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.