Robyn didn’t mind that she was a bit overweight; the self-confident girl even believed that her bubbly personality made up for being chubby. But when she developed diabetes and became sugar intolerant, her doctor advised that she modify her diet and shed some pounds. This didn’t bother her until an irritating and burning sensation made its presence felt on her private parts—and in addition, Robyn observed she had a whitish, cheese-like vaginal discharge.
Out of control
During a follow-up visit, her doctor diagnosed Robyn with vaginal yeast infection, also known as vaginal or genital candidiasis, or vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC). She had a proliferation of Candida albicans, a fungus which is part of the normal flora in 20 to 50 percent of women, especially in warm and moist areas of the body. Some types of bacteria also live naturally in the body and prevent C. albicans from growing out of control. But an imbalance in the bacteria population allows unchecked fungal growth and leads to symptoms such as inflammation, irritation, odor, discharge and itching. Synthetic materials used for women’s underwear may also aggravate the condition by trapping more moisture and heat.
Factors that may also contribute to the development of VVC are: use of certain medications such as antibiotics; changes in hormone levels; or diseases that weaken the immune system, such as diabetes, leukemia and HIV infection. VVC is said to be extremely common, affecting around 75 percent of women at one point in their lives.
Vanessa Albino, M.D. an OB-GYN and sonologist, says a weakened immune system is usually the culprit in the proliferation of Candida sp. “The fungus is an opportunistic pathogen, so that a relative state of immunosuppresion renders one prone to candidiasis,” states the OB-GYN, also a fellow of the International College of Surgeons, and a training officer at Tondo General Hospital. In diabetics, elevated blood sugar levels also feed the fungi, making it conducive for their proliferation.
Easy and early treatment
Candidiasis may be treated with over-the-counter medications in the form of topical or oral antifungals, depending on the severity of the condition. In generally healthy individuals, the symptoms would usually clear up in a week or two. Keeping the affected area clean and dry, having enough rest and eating a balanced diet help. Seeing a doctor is also recommended, to look into medical conditions that may have caused the weakened immune system.
Once detected, it’s important to treat the condition to prevent it from being a systemic problem. Untreated, the fungi might contaminate the blood and make candidiasis a widespread infection; this is more likely to occur in people who have it because of a suppressed immune system. Fever, nausea and unexplained abdominal pain are warning signs that a person with candidiasis should seek medical consult immediately, or lethal complications may arise.
Although it may not cause infertility, genital candidiasis should be managed early in patients desiring to be pregnant or who are on the family way, as the infection carries the risk of miscarriage.
When couples both experience symptoms of genital yeast infection, sexual intercourse should be avoided until the condition resolves. Treatment of both partners is necessary, to avoid re-infection.
Did you know that men can get yeast infections, too? Find out more in the March issue of HealthToday, out now in newsstands and bookstores.