The Facts About Chronic and Recurrent Yeast Infections

Any woman who has had a yeast infection will do just about anything to make sure she doesn't get another. Some women get them again and again, and an unfortunate few have them almost all the time.

How do you know if your diagnosis is "recurrent" or chronic? If your infection comes and goes, but you have healthy stretches of time in between infections, your yeast infection is recurrent. If, however, your infection lasts three months or more or never completely goes away before it flares up again, your condition is chronic. What causes repeat and chronic yeast infections and what can you do about it?

Yeast Infections Primer

Yeast infections are primarily caused by the fungal organism Candida Albicans. Unlike many other types of infections, yeast infections aren't something you "catch." Candida Albicans is a normal organism that grows on the skin and inside the mouth, intestines, foreskin, and vagina of healthy people. In most cases, other healthy bacteria that also grow in these locations keep yeast from growing at abnormal rates. But when an infection occurs, something prevents healthy bacteria from keeping yeast growth under control. For example, when someone takes antibiotics, the body's healthy bacteria might be killed along with the unhealthy one causing their infection. That means yeast can reproduce and thrive to the point where it produces unpleasant symptoms, like

  • Itching
  • A thick white discharge
  • Burning and pain during intercourse and tampon use

Most of the time, a course of anti-fungal medication knocks out this over-production of yeast, and symptoms go away.

Risk Factors for Chronic Yeast Infections

Any health condition that recurs frequently or fails to go away after treatment can be considered a "chronic condition." Some women are more prone to yeast infections than others, including those who

  • Take antibiotics
  • Have diabetes
  • Use douches and feminine hygiene sprays
  • Have diseases or use treatments that compromise the immune system, like hiv or certain cancer treatments

Women with diabetes tend to have frequent yeast infections because the extra sugar they carry in their blood streams creates perfect breeding grounds for yeast. People with HIV/AIDS have compromised immune systems that are unable to fend off the over-proliferation of fungal, viral and bacterial organisms, while men and women undergoing chemotherapy can also become prone to yeast infections if their medication depletes healthy bacterial colonies or suppresses their body's ability to ward off diseases.

Treating Yeast Infections

Occasional and even recurrent infections can be effectively treated with over-the-counter and prescription medications. Chronic infections may need a stronger treatment plan that deals with the underlying conditions that cause the problem. If you think you have a yeast infection and it's your first time, check with your doctor before treating it yourself: Studies show that most women misdiagnose yeast infections and use over-the-counter medications incorrectly. If you're absolutely sure, however, that you have a yeast infection, try a course of medication available at your drug store or ask your doctor about oral medications. "Our vaginas have a limited response to infection and irritation: discharge and itching," says Heather Weldon, MD, an OB/GYN at PeaceHealth Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver. "It's important to remember that 'all that itches isn't yeast,' so an exam by a provider is important to rule out other causes."

The best way to deal with yeast infection is to prevent one from occurring. Follow these tips:

  • Avoid wearing tight or moist clothing and synthetic underwear that prevents air from circulating in areas where yeast thrives.
  • Avoid taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary and when you do, ask your doctor about taking probiotics (supplements that help restore healthful bacteria) to replenish your body's healthy bacterial levels.
  • If you struggle with dryness during intercourse, use a water-based lubricant to minimize irritation, which can break down skin's barriers.
  • If you have an underlying condition like diabetes, see your doctor regularly for guidance on maintaining stable blood sugar.

Heather Weldon, MD, reviewed this article.