A vaginal yeast infection is a common condition that occurs from an overgrowth of yeast (a type of fungus) in the body. It causes symptoms like thick vaginal discharge, itchiness, and irritation.
While yeast normally lives in the body without causing issues, it can overgrow and lead to an infection when the immune system is weakened or when there’s a change in the vaginal environment. Because yeast feeds on sugar, people with diabetes who have elevated blood sugar levels may be prone to getting vaginal yeast infections.1
This article discusses vaginal yeast infections in people with diabetes, and provides tips on treatment and prevention.
Signs and Symptoms of a Yeast Infection
The signs of a vaginal yeast infection are pretty recognizable if you've had one before. For many people, signs include:2
- Vaginal itching
- Redness or soreness around the vagina
- Clumpy or thick white discharge
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain or burning while urinating
Prevalence of Yeast Infections
Vaginal yeast infections are common. In fact, up to 72% of people with a vagina will develop at least one in their lifetime.3
Causes and Risk Factors
There are several factors that can interfere with the balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina, increasing your risk of developing a yeast infection.
One factor is having type 2 (and also type 1) diabetes, particularly if the condition is uncontrolled.4 Yeast feeds on sugar, so it's likely to thrive and overgrow when blood sugar levels are high.
Other factors that can contribute to a vaginal yeast infection include:5
- Hormone changes
- Birth control
- Weakened immune system
- Antibiotic use
- Wearing underwear that is too tight or damp
- Sexual activity
Yeast can flourish and overgrow in warm, damp environments. Certain factors, like diabetes or a weakened immune system, can make this more likely, thanks to high blood sugar levels and a decreased ability to fight off infections in the body.
Diabetes and Yeast Infections
Diabetes is a chronic condition affecting the body's ability to process glucose (sugar), leading to dangerously high blood sugar levels. Researchers have found a link between these high blood sugar levels from diabetes and vaginal yeast infections.6
People with type 2 diabetes may be even more susceptible to getting vaginal yeast infections, likely because they have more sugar in their system, disrupting the vagina's balance of bacteria and yeast.7
High Blood Sugar Levels
When blood sugar levels are high, the body starts to get rid of excess sugar through bodily fluids, including vaginal secretions. Yeast gets its energy from sugar, so this vaginal environment makes it easy for yeast to multiply, overgrow, and turn into a yeast infection.
High blood sugar also interferes with immune system functions (the body's defense system) that help fight off yeast infections. This means uncontrolled diabetes can make it more difficult to prevent and get rid of a vaginal yeast infection
Certain diabetes medications can also contribute to an environment in which vaginal yeast infections can easily grow.
A class of diabetes drugs known as sodium-glucose co-transporter 2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors are used to help lower blood sugar. These medications work by encouraging the body to off-load excess sugar through urine. This means sugar is passing through the urinary tract more frequently, potentially feeding the growth of a vaginal yeast infection.9
A Word From Verywell
Vaginal yeast infections are very common, and they are usually not very serious if treated properly. So, if you have an underlying condition like diabetes that makes this risk even greater, don't fret. Make sure you're taking extra steps to prevent infections from occurring by controlling your blood sugar levels as much as possible. For additional diabetes support in your area, look for resources from the American Diabetes Association.
Examples of SGLT-2 inhibitor medications include:
While you may be able to detect a yeast infection when you begin experiencing the usual symptoms, it's best to get an official diagnosis from a healthcare provider whenever possible. This will help ensure that you actually have a yeast infection, and that you receive treatment that works for you.
To diagnose a vaginal yeast infection, a healthcare provider will perform a pelvic exam. This includes examining the affected area and taking a swab of vaginal discharge to check for the presence of yeast. If needed, the sample may be sent to a laboratory for an accurate evaluation
Conditions With Similar Symptoms
Yeast infections can cause similar symptoms as some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or other health conditions like eczema. This is why it's important to have a vaginal yeast infection diagnosed by a healthcare provider whenever possible.
There are a few options to treat a yeast infection based on symptoms and severity of the case. These include:11
- A prescription oral anti fungal medication, such as Diflucan (fluconazole)
- Over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal cream, such as Lotrimin AF (clotrimazole), Monistat (miconazole), Vagistat-1 (tioconazole), or Femstat (butoconazole)
Different courses of treatment have slightly different timelines, but most medications are used for one to seven days. Your healthcare provider may recommend longer-term medications or routine oral medications if your symptoms are severe or if you get vaginal yeast infections often. This may be necessary for people with diabetes
Untreated Yeast Infections
While yeast infections are generally considered harmless, they can become severe if left untreated.12 Talk to a healthcare provider if you have diabetes and are experiencing recurrent yeast infections or a yeast infection that’s not clearing up after a week of using OTC treatments. They'll be able to diagnose your infection and prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Preventing Yeast Infections
Even though diabetes can place you at a higher risk of getting a yeast infection, there are some steps you can take to help protect yourself.
A primary prevention strategy for people with diabetes includes keeping your blood sugar levels in check. This ensures the vagina's balance of bacteria and yeast stay at a healthy level. Under the direction of your healthcare provider, you can do this by:13
- Knowing your blood sugar targets
- Maintaining a healthy diet with low amounts of carbohydrates
- Drinking plenty of water
- Following an exercise routine
- Taking diabetes medication as prescribed
Other tips to help prevent a vaginal yeast infection include:14
- Wearing breathable cotton underwear that’s not too tight
- Keeping your vagina clean and dry
- Changing pads and tampons frequently
- Avoiding douching and using any vaginal products with perfumes or dyes
- Eating foods rich in probiotics like yogurt
For people with diabetes, maintaining your blood sugar levels can help reduce your risk of getting a yeast infection. Stay on track by checking your blood sugar often, eating healthy food, drinking plenty of water, and staying active. Check with your healthcare provider about starting a periodic screening for vaginal yeast infections, if needed.
A vaginal yeast infection is a common overgrowth of yeast in the body. Because yeast thrives off of sugar, high blood sugar levels in uncontrolled type 2 diabetes can make yeast infections more likely.
Symptoms include itching, burning, and a thick, white discharge from the vagina. Treatment may include a prescription oral antifungal medication or an OTC antifungal cream. Making sure blood sugar levels are under control can help people with diabetes prevent the frequency and severity of vaginal yeast infections.