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The dangers of not treating a yeast infection

Is there a danger in not treating a yeast infection?

It’s a curious question: it assumes that you know you have one. For the purposes of this article, I will deal only with vaginal yeast infections.

So how do you know if you have a yeast infection? One way to find out is if you have the same symptoms as before, when your doctor diagnosed you correctly. However, other conditions can masquerade as yeast infection, even in people who have had them before. Urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and bacterial vaginosis are conditions that are often mistaken for yeast infections.

The most common symptoms of a yeast infection are vaginal itching (internal or external) and vaginal discharge, which can be milky or have the consistency of cottage cheese. The most common reason women get these infections is from taking antibiotics for a different condition, such as a bladder or respiratory infection. Diabetes is also associated with frequent yeast infections – yeast likes sugar and grows especially well when blood sugar is high.

If you have taken antibiotics and have a yeast infection, do you have to treat it?

Not necessarily. If you are otherwise healthy, your body can often heal itself. Antibiotics also kill bad germs and good germs. Once you discontinue antibiotics and your normal “flora” (population of good germs) is restored, yeast loses its edge, allowing your body to fight yeast overgrowth. If you can tolerate the itchiness long enough for this to happen, it is perfectly acceptable.

However, if you must continue daily antibiotics for, say, a severe case of acne, your body may not have a chance to recover on its own. In that case, you may want to stop antibiotics for a while or forever and ask your doctor about an alternative acne treatment.

Also, if you have a yeast infection that does not resolve on its own (or with treatment), you should get checked for diabetes. Occasionally, if your blood sugar is high, the yeast can really take hold and make you feel so miserable that you couldn’t tolerate the symptoms.

Some people may not want to treat vaginal yeast infection due to concerns about the use of chemicals in their bodies. This is a valid consideration. Probiotics can be helpful in restoring normal flora, which is really the essence in ridding your body of a yeast infection. There is always some yeast around; it normally inhabits the colon without disturbing a person, along with billions of other germs. Our skin is covered in germs, our mouth is full of germs, and the vagina has its own set of normal germs. The key is to keep the right germs in the right place.

The danger of not treating a yeast infection lies mainly in having an incorrect diagnosis. I have seen many patients who have assumed their symptoms are due to yeast, only to find that they have a UTI or an STD. Also, the irritation caused by vaginal yeast infections can predispose you to getting an STD. Just as an opening in the hand is more likely to become infected than intact skin, the vagina is also more likely to become infected with a sexually transmitted disease if it is raw and sore.

STDs that can be confused with vaginal yeast infections include herpes, chlamydia, trichomonas, and gonorrhea. Bacterial vaginosis is not usually sexually transmitted, but it can give similar symptoms.

Urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, and sexually transmitted diseases require different treatments than vaginal yeast infections, so a correct diagnosis is vital.

If you have vaginal itching or discharge that does not resolve on its own or with treatment (such as an over-the-counter clotrimazole vaginal cream, used according to package directions), see your doctor. You don’t want to be unaware of an STD or pass it on to your partner.

Copyright 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

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