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Yeast Infection (Vaginal) - Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors

The information provided herein does not constitute an expert or medical advice, nor intended to replace such advice.

Women Health

Vaginal yeast infections are extremely common, and most women will experience one at least once in their lives. Some women get them very frequently. How do you know if you have a yeast infection? How can you be sure that it’s a yeast infection and not another type of infection?

What are the causes of a yeast infection?

Yeast infections are caused by a fungus known as Candida albicans, often simply called candida. In many women, this yeast normally lives in the vagina. As long as it’s in balance with other organisms (bacteria and fungi) that also live in the vagina, it won’t cause any problems.

A yeast infection, medically known as candidiasis, occurs when too much candida grows, out of balance with other organisms. The overgrowth of the yeast leads to a variety of uncomfortable symptoms. This can affect the vagina (the inner female genital tract) and/or the vulva (the outer female genitals). Sometimes people may refer to this as a “bacterial yeast infection,” but the truth is that yeast and bacteria are different from each other in important ways. There’s no such thing as a “bacterial yeast infection.” Instead, there are bacterial infections and yeast infections.

Candida also normally lives in the mouth and throat, and can also get out of balance there. A yeast infection in the mouth is known as thrush. In this article, a vaginal yeast infection will be referred to simply as a “yeast infection,” but yeast infections in other parts of the body are also possible.

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Risk factors for yeast infections

Any woman can potentially get a yeast infection. However, there are certain factors that make it more likely that you’ll develop this condition, including:

  • Taking antibiotics

  • Being pregnant

  • Having diabetes, particularly if it’s not well-controlled (meaning that your blood sugar levels are often high)

  • Being immunocompromised (meaning that your immune system is impaired, due to a medical condition or a medication)

  • Taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy containing estrogen

  • Douching

Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection

A vaginal yeast infection can cause a variety of symptoms, which affect the vagina and/or vulva. Some common signs of a yeast infection include:

  • Itching or a burning sensation, which may be worse when you pee or have sex

  • Swollen, red skin 

  • Soreness 

  • Vaginal discharge, which is often thick, white, and lumpy, and is often described as smelling like bread

These symptoms are similar to those of other common conditions. These include various sexually transmitted infections, like gonorrheachlamydia, and trichomoniasis, as well as conditions like bacterial vaginosis (an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina). Although the characteristics of the vaginal discharge from a yeast infection tend to differ somewhat from those of other conditions, this can vary from person to person, and isn’t a reliable way to tell one condition apart from another.

What are the side effects of a yeast infection?

If a yeast infection goes untreated, then it’s very likely to get worse. Because of the inflammation, cracks sometimes develop in the skin of the area. Frequent scratching can also cause breaks in the surface of the skin. Through these breaks, other organisms, such as bacteria, can enter. This can result in an infection, known as a secondary infection (because it occurs in response to the yeast infection). 

If the secondary infection also goes untreated, then there’s a chance that it could spread into the bloodstream, leading to a potentially fatal condition known as sepsis. This is very uncommon, but it can occur.

How do you know if you have a yeast infection?

If you’re experiencing vaginal discharge or other symptoms that could indicate a yeast infection, it can be tempting to self-diagnose based on your symptoms alone. However, the symptoms of a yeast infection can overlap with those of other conditions, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and bacterial vaginosis. Although the vaginal discharge from a yeast infection does tend to have a particular characteristic smell, this isn’t necessarily a reliable way to be sure that you have a yeast infection rather than another condition.

It’s important to be certain about your diagnosis, because the type of medication that will work for a yeast infection is very different from what will work for other conditions. Taking an antifungal medication because you presume you have a yeast infection, when it turns out that you have a different condition, then it won’t be effective. Your condition is likely to get worse, and could even become dangerous.

The only way to know for sure whether you have a yeast infection is through testing. You can visit your doctor to get tested, but if you prefer more privacy and convenience, another option is home testing. You’ll get a test kit in the mail, and will take a sample with a vaginal swab and mail it back to the lab. You’ll then get your results online. With many home testing services, you can also receive the appropriate treatment for your condition through the service.


Can a yeast infection cause a burning sensation?

A burning sensation of the vagina or vulva is a very common symptom of a yeast infection.

Can a yeast infection cause sores?

It’s not very common for a yeast infection to cause sores on the vulva or in the vagina. This is more commonly a symptom of a sexually transmitted disease, like herpes or syphilis. However, a severe yeast infection can lead to cracking of the skin. Because yeast infections often cause intense itching, sores may also develop due to repeated scratching.

Can antibiotics cause a yeast infection?

There’s a connection between antibiotics and yeast infections, and taking antibiotics does increase the risk of a yeast infection. This is because antibiotics kill off bacteria in the vagina, but don’t affect the yeast. That makes it easier for the yeast to grow out of balance, since there are fewer bacteria around to compete with them.


Goncalvez B, Ferreira C, et al. Vulvovaginal candidiasis: Epidemiology, microbiology and risk factors. Crit Rev Microbiol. 2016 Nov;42(6):905-27. doi: 10.3109/1040841X.2015.1091805.

Jeanmonod R, Jeanmonod D. Vaginal Candidiasis. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459317/. Accessed 30 May 2023.

Vaginal Candidiasis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/genital/index.html. Accessed 30 May 2023.

Dr. Patricia Shelton

Dr. Patricia Shelton

Jun 06, 2023

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