One of the most bothersome health conditions women face, yeast infections are quite common. In fact, approximately 75 percent of women have at least one during their lifetimes, according to the Office on Women's Health, and many develop these infections multiple times. You may turn to preventative methods such as taking probiotics to lower your risk. What you may not realize is that taking antibiotics for other health problems may be the culprit behind your yeast infection.
Understanding Yeast Infections
The fungus Candida albicans causes yeast infections. This yeast is always present in your body but too much of it causes vaginal irritation. Classic signs and symptoms include vaginal itching, redness, burning and pain during urination or sexual intercourse. You may also have a thick, white discharge. Hormonal imbalances, pregnancy, stress and an unhealthy diet are possible risk factors for yeast infections. Having certain diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, can also contribute to your risk.
Taking certain medications — including birth control pills — may also raise your risk for yeast infections. Among the most well-known are the commonly-prescribed drugs known as antibiotics. Antibiotics destroy bacteria by attacking their cellular processes. Unfortunately, these drugs aren't able to distinguish disease-causing bacteria from the good kind. This can cause imbalance in your vaginal area as well, putting you at risk for yeast infections. The resulting lack of bacteria allows the yeast to thrive and multiply, thereby causing the symptoms of infection, according to the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics.
Probiotics for Prevention
Probiotics help maintain the balance of bacteria in the body. These healthy or friendly bacteria strains have long been used as a way to treat vaginal infections; in fact, consuming probiotic-containing yogurt or inserting it vaginally are known folk remedies for such infections. Taking probiotics regularly may be recommended if you continually have yeast infections. More research is needed to know exactly which strains — and how much — could prevent yeast overgrowth. One study, published in August 2004 in the "British Medical Journal" found that Lactobacillus strains were not effective at preventing antibiotic-caused infections.
The authors of an August 2003 review appearing in the "Journal of Postgraduate Medicine" point out that probiotics may at best be an effective supportive treatment to help reduce future yeast infections. See your doctor if you have the signs of an infection because you likely need an antifungal medication, some of which are available over the counter. It is especially important to contact your doctor if this is the first time you're having these symptoms. Many of the signs and symptoms are similar to other vaginal infections and certain sexually-transmitted infections, such as chlamydia.