Even though the symptoms produced by a vaginal yeast infection (also referred to as vaginal candidiasis or yeast vaginitis) are similar among affected women, they are not at all specific. In fact, studies have shown that many women attempt to treat what they believe are yeast infections using over-the-counter medications when they actually have a different condition. So, if you are unsure about whether or not you have a yeast infection, or if you have never had one before, it's important to see your doctor to be sure that you are treating the correct conditions before starting any treatment.
The most common organism that causes yeast infections is known as Candida albicans. This type of yeast can be present in normal, healthy women in the vaginal canal. Most commonly, it is present without causing any symptoms at all. It is only when an overgrowth of this organism is present that symptoms of a yeast infection may manifest. This happens when the balance of protective bacteria in the vagina is disturbed, either due to illness, hormonal changes, or taking certain medications, particularly antibiotics or immune-suppressing drugs. Conditions that affect the function of the immune system, including diabetes, can increase a woman's risk of getting a yeast infection. Sometimes, no cause for the overgrowth of yeast is discovered.
Symptoms of yeast infection are similar to those of other causes of vaginitis (inflammation or irritation of the vaginal canal), including Trichomonas infection and bacterial vaginosis. Itching, which can be severe, is a common symptom. Burning and irritation usually accompany the itching. Pain during sexual intercourse may be present as well as pain or burning with urination. A vaginal discharge is often present. With a yeast infection, the discharge is most often described as whitish-gray, thick, and having a consistency similar to cottage cheese. There may be redness, swelling, irritation, and itching of the vulva in addition to the vaginal symptoms.