Yeast infections are pesky infections that cause itching and discomfort, oftentimes in the vagina. While yeast infections are relatively common and easily treatable, they are still a nuisance to deal with. Thus, prevention of yeast infections is key to avoiding discomfort.

While there are certain habits that contribute to the overgrowth of yeast, medical conditions such as diabetes can also increase your risk of yeast infections. High blood sugar levels and diabetes medications can cause an imbalance of yeast and good bacteria, leaving you with an infection. This article will explain the relationship between diabetes and yeast infections and how you can prevent and treat them.

An introduction to yeast infections

A yeast infection is a fungal infection caused by a yeast fungus known as candida. Yeast can grow normally in and around the body, living in places like your vagina, mouth, and digestive tract. Typically, other bacteria in the body help to manage the amount of yeast present. However, yeast can become imbalanced thanks to internal and external factors. With this imbalance, yeast grows abnormally, causing a yeast infection.

Yeast infections commonly happen in the vagina. This manifests as symptoms such as itching, burning, and redness in and around the vagina. Because vaginal yeast infections are common, yeast infections occur more often in women. At least 75 percent of women have experienced at least one vaginal yeast infection throughout their life, and more than half will get at least two vaginal yeast infections in their life.

Symptoms of a yeast infection

For the purposes of this article, we will focus specifically on the symptoms of vaginal yeast infections, as these are the most common. Signs and symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include:

  • Itchiness in the vagina
  • Odor
  • Thick or clumpy white discharge
  • Vaginal redness
  • Burning or pain during urination
  • Swelling
  • Vaginal soreness
  • Stinging or burning
  • Pain during sex

If you have previously had a vaginal yeast infection, you will likely be able to recognize these symptoms quickly when they arise. It is always good to get checked out by a healthcare provider, however, as these symptoms can overlap with other conditions like STIs.

Causes of yeast infections

As aforementioned, yeast infections happen when there is an imbalance between yeast and bacteria. There are several reasons why the balance may be disrupted, causing you to develop a yeast infection. These include:

  • Taking antibiotics. When you take a course of antibiotics, it kills both the bad and the good bacteria. By killing the good bacteria, it can cause an imbalance thus producing an overgrowth of yeast.
  • Taking hormone therapy. Post-menopausal women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are more likely to develop yeast infections.
  • Sexual activity. It is important to note that yeast infections are not considered sexually transmitted infections (STI). However, certain sexual acts can bring bacteria into the vagina, thus disrupting the balance.
  • Taking birth control pills. Hormonal birth control can induce changes to your body’s hormone balance, thus increasing your risk of a yeast infection.
  • Having a compromised immune system. If your body has a weak immune system, this can make you more likely to get an infection.
  • Getting pregnant. Pregnancy induces hormone changes in the body that alter the pH balance of the vagina. Thus, yeast infections can develop and are very common during pregnancy.
  • Wearing clothes that are tight or wet. When you wear clothing, specifically underwear, that is tight or damp, this creates an environment where yeast can overgrow.

Though all of these things can lead to a yeast infection, there is one important cause we have not mentioned: diabetes. Diabetes changes the body in a way that makes it more susceptible to yeast overgrowth.

The connection between diabetes and yeast infections

Diabetes is a chronic disease that impacts your body’s ability to regulate your blood sugar levels, leading to persistent increased blood sugar levels. Having high blood sugar over an extended period of time can lead to downstream complications affecting the heart, nerves, vision, hearing, feet, and more. One such complication involves infections, particularly yeast infections. A study conducted in 2018 on 300,000 individuals indicated that those with type 1 or 2 diabetes had a higher incidence of infection, including yeast infections, compared with people who did not have diabetes. The prevalence of yeast infections in diabetes is linked to two main causes: high blood sugar and diabetes medications.

High blood sugar

In environments high in sugar, yeast feeds off this sugar to grow uncontrollably. Thus, if your blood sugar is over 250 mg/dL frequently and for extended periods, yeast is more likely to grow, contributing to yeast infections.

When you are not adequately managing your diabetes, you will have uncontrolled blood sugar levels. The body will then remove this excess sugar through bodily fluids such as through vaginal secretions. When sugar is present in vaginal secretions, this can cause yeast overgrowth and consequent yeast infections.

Weakened immune system

Increased blood sugar can also weaken your immune system, which is how your body defends and fights against infection. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system is weakened, causing damage to pancreas cells. In type 2 diabetes, you also experience immune system changes and inflammation. One theory behind this is that increased blood sugar suppresses the activity of special proteins in the immune system. As a result, your immune responses with diabetes may be weaker than normal. Because your immune system helps to fight infection, uncontrolled sugar levels make it harder to prevent and treat things like vaginal yeast infections.

Diabetes medications

Diabetes medications can also contribute to the development of yeast infections. Certain drugs can foster an environment where yeast is more likely to grow. One such example is sodium-glucose co-transporter 2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors, which are common antidiabetic medications aimed at decreasing blood sugar levels. Examples of SGLT-2 inhibitors include dapagliflozin (Farxiga), empagliflozin (Jardiance), canagliflozin (Invokana), and ertugliflozin (Steglatro).

These drugs function by making the body excrete extra sugar through the urine. When the sugar is being flushed through the urinary tract, this can result in high sugar levels in and around the vagina, resulting in potential yeast infections.

Diagnosing and managing yeast infections

If you suspect a yeast infection, you should consult your healthcare provider to confirm or deny a diagnosis and initiate treatment as needed. Yeast infection symptoms can also overlap with other conditions such as STIs, so a formal diagnosis is important.

Diagnosis of a yeast infection involves a pelvic exam, where your provider will swab the vaginal discharge and inspect it for yeast. Sometimes this process will require consultation with a laboratory.

If your provider diagnoses you with a yeast infection, there are several treatment options available to you. Fluconazole is an antifungal medication taken by mouth that is available with a prescription. It is typically taken only as a single dose, and it can resolve symptoms within just a few days. There are also over-the-counter (OTC) options, which are antifungal creams like miconazole (Monistat), Lotrim AF (clotrimazole), and more. These creams may need to be applied for several days, but directions will vary depending on the product.

Preventing yeast infections

Though yeast infections are not serious and can be easily treated, they can be uncomfortable and a nuisance. Whether you are a diabetic having experienced frequent yeast infections or want to prevent them in the future, there are several ways to set yourself up for success.

For diabetic patients, the most important step is getting your diabetes under control. This means getting your blood sugar levels within range and practicing healthy habits, like the ones below:

  • Adhering to your anti-diabetic medications
  • Regularly checking your blood sugar levels
  • Routinely seeing your doctor for diabetes management
  • Eating a healthy diet low in carbohydrates and sugar
  • Exercising regularly, incorporating at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Drinking a lot of water

Aside from managing your diabetes, there are other ways to prevent yeast infections. The following tips apply to everyone, even those without diabetes:

  • Making sure your vagina is dry
  • Not wearing underwear or other clothing in that area that is too tight
  • Not douching or using vaginal products containing dyes or perfumes
  • Changing out tampons and pads regularly
  • Maintaining proper hygiene
  • Intaking foods that contain probiotics
  • Avoiding antibiotics when they are not necessary

Conclusion

Unfortunately, diabetes can predispose you to several other complications aside from just abnormal blood sugars. One such complication is yeast infections, which can occur as a result of uncontrolled diabetes. Thankfully, there are ways to prevent yeast infections, including managing your blood sugar levels and implementing healthy lifestyle habits. If you do end up suspecting a yeast infection, consult with your doctor to receive a formal diagnosis and initiate treatment as needed.

Key Takeaways

  1. High blood sugar levels from diabetes can create an ideal environment for yeast infections due to excess sugar in bodily fluids.
  2. Diabetic medications, especially SGLT-2 inhibitors, may inadvertently increase the risk of yeast infections by excreting sugar through urine.
  3. Proper diabetes management is crucial in preventing yeast infections, highlighting the importance of maintaining blood sugar levels within the target range.
  4. Over 75% of women will experience a vaginal yeast infection, with diabetes patients facing higher risks due to immune system impacts.
  5. Simple lifestyle changes, such as wearing loose clothing and maintaining good hygiene, can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing yeast infections.