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Yeast Infection and Bacterial Vaginosis

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What Causes Yeast Infection and Bacterial Vaginosis?

Up to 75% of women will experience an inflammatory condition of the vagina at some point in their lives. Medically known as vaginitis, inflammation in the vaginal area is a common condition resulting from multiple causes. Two of the most common causes of vaginitis are yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis.

Bacterial vaginosis refers to an overgrowth of certain types of bacteria that are normally present in the vagina and is not a sexually-transmitted infection (STD). The condition used to be referred to as Gardnerella vaginitis; because Gardnerella is a type of bacteria that sometimes causes the infection. While symptoms are not present in about half of women with bacterial vaginosis, those who do experience symptoms will have vaginal discharge, usually with an unpleasant odor. The discharge is usually gray to white in color but can be of any color.

Another common type of vaginitis results from vaginal yeast infections. Candida albicans is the type of fungus most commonly responsible for vaginitis. Yeast is believed to be present in the vagina of 20%-50% of healthy women. Vaginal yeast infections occur when new yeast is introduced into the vaginal area or when there is an overgrowth of the yeast already present in the vagina, for example, when the normal protective bacteria are destroyed by antibiotics taken to treat another infection. Yeast can also overgrow and cause infections in women with suppressed immune function.

Symptoms of Yeast Infection and Bacterial Vaginosis

Like bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection may result in a vaginal discharge. In this case, if discharge is present, it is usually thick and whitish, with a consistency similar to that of cottage cheese. But the most common symptom is itching in the vaginal or vulvar area. A burning sensation and pain during intercourse or urination are also characteristic symptoms of a yeast vaginitis. Unlike the discharge of bacterial vaginosis, the discharge of a yeast infection is typically odorless.

If you have any of the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis or yeast vaginitis, it is important to contact your health care practitioner. The symptoms of both conditions are nonspecific and can also occur in more serious infections and conditions, so a correct diagnosis is important. By examination of the vaginal discharge under a microscope, the diagnosis can usually be established if it is not apparent from the symptoms alone. Both conditions can be effectively treated with antibiotics, and an accurate diagnosis ensures the choice of appropriate antibiotic treatment.

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Reviewed on 9/11/2017
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