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HIV and Yeast Infections

Yeast infections are common for lots of women whether they have HIV or not. They are a sign your body’s off balance. For women with HIV, yeast infections can become chronic and difficult to treat as the immune system weakens. A vicious circle is created: chronic yeast infections weaken the immune system, and a weakened immune system can’t fight yeast. Vaginal yeast infections can also make you more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections.

What is a yeast infection?

Yeast is always in your body and usually doesn’t cause problems but when there is an overgrowth, you’ll experience symptoms of a yeast infection. Yeast infections can occur in the vagina, mouth and throat (known as thrush). As your CD4+ cell counts fall below 200, the risk of repeated yeast infections increases.

Symptoms

Once you’ve had one, you’ll usually know when you have a yeast infection. Symptoms include:

  • itching or burning around the vagina
  • thick, white vaginal discharge
  • burning sensation while urinating
  • burning sensation while having sex

In the mouth, you’ll see a thick coating on the tongue, and/or an itchy, white coating in the throat.

Causes

An overgrowth of yeast can be caused by:

  • a weakened immune system
  • antibiotics
  • birth control pills
  • steroids
  • pregnancy
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • poor hygiene

Infections can occur at any CD4+ count, but they may become more severe as your count drops.

Treatments

If you’re not sure if it’s a yeast infection, see a doctor for confirmation. Yeast infections can often be treated with over-the-counter creams and vaginal suppositories. If these don’t work, or don’t work for long, follow up with a doctor. You might do better with a prescription for a pill taken orally. Thrush should always be seen by a doctor.

Avoiding Yeast Infections

There are some common approaches for reducing the risk of yeast infections. These don’t improve things for everyone, but they’re worth a try:

  • Change what you eat: Cut down on sugars and starchy foods, eat “natural” yogurts containing probiotics (lactobacillus acidophilus) and take acidophilus capsules. Consult a dietician to determine the best diet for you. Oak Tree Clinic provides medical care to women with HIV in BC, and has a fantastic dietician.
  • Change your clothes: Wear cotton underwear that lets air in and doesn’t trap moisture. Wear pants loose enough so your crotch can “breathe.”
  • Change your soap: Soap can dry the skin and increase irritation, so use non-soap cleansers and avoid scented soaps that can contain irritating chemicals (including laundry soap).
  • Be good to your vagina! Don’t use douches, ever. They changes the natural balance of your vagina, increase risk of irritation, push any infection you might have further up inside your body and increase the risk of getting other sexually transmitted infections (ouch).

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