Only one in every four women who seeks treatment for persistent yeast infections actually has one, a new study suggests.
Women will frequently treat suspected yeast infections themselves with over-the-counter (OTC) products, but the findings show that most of the time this won’t help. In fact, using such medications repeatedly may even cause harm, Dr. Susan Hoffstetter, the co-director of the SLUCare Vulvar and Vaginal Disease Clinic at Saint Louis University, told Reuters Health.
“We treat ourselves because we want our problems to go away quickly,” Hoffstetter pointed out, adding that this isn’t only the fault of patients. “We in medicine also do a lot of treating over the phone just to keep women from having to come in.”
Hoffstetter and her colleagues looked at the medical records for 150 women visiting the clinic for the first time who reported persistent yeast infections.
Lab tests showed that only 26 percent of the women were infected with Candida — the fungus responsible for yeast infections. Other causes of vaginal itching can include sexually transmitted infections, dry skin, or inflammation, Hoffstetter noted, which won’t respond to OTC antifungals and could even be aggravated by these products.
Overuse of OTC yeast infection remedies can alter the normal flora of the vagina, which can lead to other health problems, the researcher pointed out. And, she added, drug-resistant strains of Candida are becoming increasingly common.
If a woman experiences pain during sex, burning sensations in the vaginal area, a thick white discharge, and pain during urination, she may indeed have a yeast infection, Hoffstetter said. And it’s probably OK for women to self-treat if they experience these symptoms rarely, and they get better with OTC medication, she added.
But women who think they are suffering from yeast infections that never go away are likely to have some other problem, Hoffstetter said. In such cases, she advised, it’s important for a woman to actually see a doctor or nurse practitioner and have a pelvic exam and lab tests, if necessary, rather than just getting medical advice over the phone.