Your Guide to Genital Candidiasis

Here's What You Need to Know About Yeast Infections

Young woman sitting on toilet lid
Getty Images/Peter Dazeley

Genital candidiasis—more commonly known as a "yeast infection"—is a fungal infection that occurs when there is an overgrowth of the Candida fungus. Candida is always present in your body, but usually in small amounts. When an imbalance occurs, like when your vagina's normal acidity changes or there's a hormonal imbalance, Candida can multiply. When that happens, symptoms of candidiasis appear.

What Are the Symptoms of Genital Candidiasis?

Women with a yeast infection usually experience genital itching or burning, sometimes with a cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge.

Men with genital candidiasis may experience an itchy rash on the penis.

How Common Is Genital Candidiasis?

Nearly 75 percent of women have had at least one genital yeast infection. It is far less common in men. Genital candidiasis occurs more frequently and more severely in people with weakened immune systems. The following also put you at higher risk for genital candidiasis:

  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Use of broad-spectrum antibiotics
  • Use of corticosteroid medications
  • Increased estrogen levels, whether it's because you're pregnant, or you're taking high-dose estrogen birth control pills.

How Is Genital Candidiasis Transmitted?

Candida yeasts usually live in the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and vagina without causing symptoms. Symptoms develop only when Candida becomes overgrown. Although a vaginal yeast infection is not considered a sexually transmitted infection, you can spread the fungus through mouth to genital contact.


How Is Genital Candidiasis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will likely perform a ​pelvic exam to look for signs of infection, and examine your vagina and cervix. He may send a sample of vaginal fluid for testing to determine the type of fungus causing the yeast infection. 

How Is Genital Candidiasis Treated?

Taking an antifungal drug—available as a cream, ointment, tablet, and suppository—for one, three or seven days usually clears up a yeast infection.

 Some of the drugs require a prescription; others are sold over-the-counter. For recurrent yeast infections, your doctor might recommend medication to prevent future infections. 

Are Over-the-Counter (OTC) Treatments for Genital Candidiasis Safe to Use?

Yes, but misdiagnosis is common, and studies have shown that up to two-thirds of all OTC drugs sold to treat yeast infections were used by women who didn't have the disease. Using these drugs when they are not needed can lead to a difficult-to-treat resistant infection. 

Can Candida Infections Become Resistant to Treatment?

Overuse of these antifungal medications can increase the chance that they will eventually not work (the fungus develops resistance to medications). Therefore, it is important to be sure of the diagnosis before treating with over-the-counter or other antifungal medications.

What Happens If I Don't Seek Treatment for Genital Candidiasis?

Symptoms, which may be very uncomfortable, may persist. There is a chance that the infection may be passed between sex partners.

How Can Someone Tell the Difference Between Genital Candidiasis and a Urinary Tract Infection?

Because genital candidiasis and urinary tract infections share similar symptoms, such as a burning sensation when urinating, it is important to see a doctor so that you can obtain laboratory testing to determine the cause of the symptoms and to treat effectively.  

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