In the US, vaginal infections are one of the most common reasons women visit their doctor each year. Caused by the growth of microorganisms, vaginal infections can result from bacteria, yeast, viruses, or sexually transmitted diseases. Women can combat many of the most common vaginal infections by wearing loose fitting, cotton, absorbent underwear and using barrier methods of contraception during every sexual encounter.
Yeast infections are usually due to Candida Albicans. This yeast normally resides in the intestines, on skin, and in the normal vaginal flora. While not sexually transmitted, yeast infections are more likely to develop in women who have a weakened immune system. Pregnant women, women with diabetes, and women who have taken oral antibiotics also tend to have a greater likelihood of yeast infections. Yeast infections are generally marked by itchiness in the vagina and vulva, the presence of soreness or a rash, and a thick, white discharge that looks like cottage cheese. A health provider can examine a patient for the presence of a yeast infection, and she can prescribe various antifungal drugs for treatment.
Bacterial vaginosis happens when the balance of bacteria in a woman's vagina is altered. Women who have a sexually transmitted disease or who use an intrauterine device are more likely to get bacterial vaginosis than those who do not. It is usually marked by a thin, gray or white discharge that may be profuse, smell fishy, and be accompanied by itching. Bacterial vaginosis is treated with oral antibiotics or antibiotic gels or creams, but it commonly recurs. If a woman suspects she has bacterial vaginosis, she should be seen by her healthcare provider to confirm an accurate diagnosis.