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Candida albicans is a single-celled fungus that is always present in the genitals and intestinal tract. While a healthy vagina will have a small number of these cells as part of a balanced body ecology, when the body is under stress and the immune system is suppressed for different reasons there may be an excess of the candida cells. A disproportionate amount of this fungus in the vagina is known as a yeast infection. Factors such as the use of antibiotics or oral contraceptives, pregnancy, or simply a weakened immune system can contribute to a yeast infection.
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What does a yeast infection look like? What are the symptoms? Can you diagnose one yourself? A yeast infection is usually accompanied by itching and minor soreness. There may be pain during urination and sex. A vaginal discharge may also be present. It will be white, soft, clumpy, and odorless. The characteristic discharge of a yeast infection is often compared to cottage cheese. If these symptoms occur from several days to a week before your period, it is very likely to be a yeast infection.
Many women who have had a vaginal yeast infection in the past are comfortable recognizing the signs and using over-the-counter medications for treatment. An infection can also clear up on its own without the use of any type of medication.
If you are unsure if is candidiasis or not, see your doctor. There are many reasons that the vagina can become irritated and similar symptoms can occur. Over-douching and exposure to bath oils can cause soreness and itching. Other health problems, such as sexually transmitted diseases, can also cause similar symptoms. If pregnant or if you may be pregnant see a doctor rather than treating yourself.
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Can a yeast infection be prevented? Keeping in mind that a balanced body ecology has a lot to do with the flourishing of fungal cells or of beneficial bacteria such as lactobacilli, eating a healthy diet can help to prevent infections. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and yogurt is beneficial. Also, limit your intake of sugary foods — yeast thrive on a sugar-rich environment. A healthy diet will also help to support your immune system.
Wearing breathable underwear made from natural fibers and avoiding douches, scented toilet paper and tampons can also help.
Now that you know what a yeast infection looks like you can choose to see your doctor if necessary, improve your well-being and let the infection clear up on its own, or use over-the-counter medications. If infections keep occurring be sure to see your doctor as this may be a sign of a greater problem such as diabetes.
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Balch, Phyllis, CNC. "Prescription for Nutritional Healing." (Penguin Group, 2006).
photo by Average Jane (CC/flickr)