Vaginal yeast infection is a common condition caused by an overgrowth of yeast (a type of fungus) in the body. It can cause symptoms such as thick vaginal discharge, itching, and irritation.
While yeast usually exists in the body without causing problems, when the immune system weakens or the vaginal environment changes, it can overgrow and lead to infection. Because yeast feeds on sugar, people with diabetes who have elevated blood sugar levels may be susceptible to vaginal yeast infections.
This article discusses vaginal yeast infections in people with diabetes and provides tips for treatment and prevention.
Signs and symptoms of yeast infection
It’s easy to recognize if you’ve had signs of a vaginal yeast infection in the past. For many, signs include:
- vaginal itching
- redness or soreness around the vagina
- lumpy or thick white discharge
- pain during sex
- pain or burning when urinating
The prevalence of yeast infections
Vaginal yeast infections are common. In fact, as many as 72% of vaginal patients will develop at least one vagina in their lifetime.
Causes and Risk Factors
Several factors can interfere with the balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina, increasing the risk of developing a yeast infection.
One factor is having type 2 (as well as type 1) diabetes, especially if the condition is uncontrolled. Yeast feeds on sugar, so it can thrive and overgrow when blood sugar levels are high.
Other factors that can lead to a vaginal yeast infection include:
- hormone changes
- family planning
- weakened immune system
- antibiotic use
- wearing underwear that is too tight or too wet
- sexual activity
Yeast can thrive in warm, moist environments. Certain factors, such as diabetes or a weakened immune system, make this more likely due to high blood sugar levels and a decreased ability to fight infection in the body.
Diabetes and Yeast Infections
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects the body’s ability to process glucose (sugar), leading to dangerously high blood sugar levels. Researchers have found a link between these high blood sugar levels caused by diabetes and vaginal yeast infections.
People with type 2 diabetes may be more susceptible to vaginal yeast infections, possibly because they have more sugar in their system, disrupting the vaginal bacteria and yeast balance.
high blood sugar levels
When blood sugar levels are high, the body begins to excrete excess sugar through bodily fluids, including vaginal secretions. Yeast gets energy from sugar, so this vaginal environment makes it easy for yeast to multiply, overgrow, and turn into a yeast infection.
High blood sugar can also interfere with the function of the immune system (the body’s defense system) that helps fight yeast infections. This means that uncontrolled diabetes can make it harder to prevent and get rid of vaginal yeast infections.
Certain diabetes medications can also cause an environment where vaginal yeast infections are prone to grow.
A class of diabetes drugs called sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors are used to help lower blood sugar. These drugs work by encouraging the body to excrete excess sugar through the urine. This means that sugar travels through the urethra more frequently, potentially promoting the growth of vaginal yeast infections.
Examples of SGLT-2 inhibitor drugs include:
- Farxiga (dapagliflozin)
- Invokana (canagliflozin)
- Jardiance (empagliflozin)
- Steglatro (ertugliflozin)
While you may be able to detect a yeast infection when you start having common symptoms, it’s best to get an official diagnosis from a healthcare provider whenever possible. This will help make sure you do have a yeast infection and make sure you’re getting the treatment that’s right for you.
To diagnose a vaginal yeast infection, a healthcare provider will perform a pelvic exam. This includes examining the affected area and taking a swab of vaginal secretions to check for the presence of yeast. If desired, samples can be sent to a laboratory for accurate evaluation.
have similar symptoms
Yeast infections can cause symptoms similar to some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or other health conditions such as eczema. That’s why it’s important to have a vaginal yeast infection diagnosed by a healthcare provider whenever possible.
There are several ways to treat a yeast infection, depending on the symptoms and severity of the case. These include:
- Prescription oral antifungal medications, such as Diflucan (Fluconazole)
- Over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal creams, such as Lotrimin AF (cltrimazole), Monistat (miconazole), Vagistat-1 (tioconazole), or Femstat (buconazole)
The schedule varies slightly between courses of treatment, but most medications are used for 1 to 7 days. If you have severe symptoms or frequent vaginal yeast infections, your healthcare provider may recommend long-term medication or regular oral medication. This may be necessary for people with diabetes.
untreated yeast infection
While yeast infections are generally considered harmless, they can become serious if left untreated. Consult a healthcare provider if you have diabetes and are experiencing recurrent yeast infections or yeast infections that have not cleared up after one week of OTC treatment. They will be able to diagnose your infection and prescribe appropriate treatment.
Prevent Yeast Infections
Although diabetes puts you at higher risk for yeast infections, there are things you can do to protect yourself.
Primary prevention strategies for people with diabetes include controlling blood sugar levels. This ensures that the balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina remains at healthy levels. With the guidance of your healthcare provider, you can do this by:
- Know your blood sugar goals
- Eat a healthy diet and eat in small amounts carbohydrate
- drink plenty of water
- follow a workout routine
- Take diabetes medications as prescribed
Other tips to help prevent vaginal yeast infections include:
- Wear breathable cotton underwear that won’t be too tight
- Keep the vagina clean and dry
- Change pads and tampons frequently
- Avoid douching and using any vaginal products with perfume or dyes
- eat probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt
For people with diabetes, maintaining blood sugar levels can help reduce the risk of yeast infection. Stay on track by checking your blood sugar frequently, eating healthy foods, drinking plenty of water, and staying active. If needed, talk to your healthcare provider about starting regular screening for vaginal yeast infections.
A vaginal yeast infection is a common yeast overgrowth in the body. Because yeast relies on sugar to grow, high blood sugar levels in people with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes can make yeast infections more likely.
Symptoms include itching, burning, and a thick white vaginal discharge. Treatment may include prescription oral antifungal medications or over-the-counter antifungal creams. Ensuring that blood sugar levels are under control can help people with diabetes prevent the frequency and severity of vaginal yeast infections.
Vaginal yeast infections are common and usually not serious if treated properly. So if you have an underlying medical condition like diabetes that makes this risk even greater, don’t worry. Make sure you take extra steps to prevent infection by controlling your blood sugar levels as much as possible. For other diabetes support in your area, find resources from the American Diabetes Association.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can diabetes cause vaginal itching?
Yes, itchy skin can be a common side effect of diabetes, as can fungal infections. Keep skin clean and dry, and consult a healthcare provider to rule out a vaginal yeast infection.
What Can Diabetics Take to Treat a Yeast Infection?
Treatment options for vaginal yeast infections are generally the same whether or not you have diabetes. However, if you have diabetes and have frequent or severe yeast infections, your healthcare provider may recommend long-term treatment or prescription medication to fix the problem.
How long will a yeast infection last?
This may depend on the severity of the infection and the treatment regimen used. Some mild yeast infections can clear up within a few days with OTC treatment, while others can take up to 14 days of aggressive treatment.