In 1973, on my first day of work as a medical doctor, a woman walked into my office having suffered from vaginal itching for 20 years. She turned out to have a chronic yeast infection, which eventually she was able to overcome.
At various times throughout their lives, many women experience one or more vaginal infections. These highly annoying and even painful infections usually clear up rapidly with treatment. However, an estimated 20 percent of women go on to develop persistent and recurrent yeast infections.
Vaginal yeast infections are usually caused by a yeast known as candida albicans. Candida albicans is the name of a family of one cell fungus which belongs to the plant kingdom. Under normal circumstances, candida is present in your vagina, mouth and digestive tract and also on your skin. Some researchers even suggest that candida, in its one cell form, may be involved in a beneficial role in the hormone regulation of humans.
But under certain conditions, candida can change from its harmless one cell form into a long microscopic tube (hypha) which puts out branches (mycelia). In this form, as a mass of branches or long root-like structures, it can penetrate into cell walls and cause infection in various parts of the body.
Of course, the female body has its own defences against invading yeast cells. The vagina itself is a balanced ecosystem. It is an efficient, self-maintaining and dynamic environment with natural defence mechanisms that keep it healthy, moist and clean. The two most important defence mechanisms are the acid base balance and the cervical secretions. The healthy vagina is slightly acidic, ranging from about four to five on the PH scale (that runs from one, most acidic, to 14, most alkaline). This acid condition of the vagina discourages infections by bacteria and other organisms. Friendly bacteria called lactobacillus acidophilus help also help keep the vagina acidic and resistant to infections.
The mucous secretions which come from the cervix bathe and lubricate the vaginal walls. The amount of cervical secretions are affected by hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle. The vagina can also produce its own secretions during sexual excitement. Normal vaginal secretions have a mild, pleasant odour and fluctuate between a clear egg white consistency and a milky white creamy consistency depending on the phase of the menstrual cycle. Anything that can disturb the overall condition of your health or the natural balance of your vaginal environment can predispose you to yeast infections.
Predisposing Factors That Affect The Whole Body
THE BIRTH CONTROL PILL: The pill changes the environment of the vagina just like pregnancy does and makes pill users more susceptible to persistent and recurrent yeast infections. Choosing another form of birth control may be necessary.
PREGNANCY: Pregnancy makes the vagina less acidic and increases the amount of sugar stored in the vaginal cell walls. This sugar can provide great fuel for the rapid growth of yeast cells. Yeast infections during pregnancy must be treated or the mother can pass on the infection on to her baby at birth.
PROLONGED OR REPEATED USE OF ANTIBIOTICS: A common example of this is the long-term use of tetracycline for the treatment of acne. Other examples are repeated courses of antibiotics for ear infections or bronchitis.
Some women get a yeast infection every time they use an antibiotic. Antibiotics kill harmful bacteria, but they also kill the good bacteria, the protective lactobacilli that live in the vagina.
A good preventive measure for women who need to go on antibiotics is to take high quality lactobacillus powder or capsules (available at any health food store).
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