Q. I’m 65 and recently developed a yeast infection. Aren’t these infections unusual in postmenopausal women?
A. Vaginal yeast infection occurs at least once in about 75 percent of women. You are correct that yeast infections are not as common after menopause, but they still account for some cases of vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina). An overgrowth of the microorganism Candida albicans is usually responsible.
A common cause of yeast overgrowth in women of any age is the use of antibiotics, which are used to treat urinary and other bacterial infections, but can also kill the bacteria that keep yeast in balance. Candida overgrowth also tends to occur in women who are pregnant, take oral contraceptives containing high doses of estrogen, or have diabetes, and in women whose immune systems are suppressed. Risk may also be increased by using some contraceptive products, such as sponges or douches, or by wearing tight, poorly ventilated clothing and underwear.
Symptoms of yeast infection are universal, regardless of age–itching and soreness of the labia and surrounding vaginal tissues, burning during urination, and pain during sexual intercourse. A woman may also notice a white, clumpy vaginal discharge.
There are several treatments for Candida vaginitis. A common first choice is a vaginal cream or tablet, such as miconazole (Monistat-7) or tioconazole (Vagistat). You use these medicines daily for three to seven days, and you may buy them over the counter at your pharmacy. A single oral dose of fluconazole (Diflucan) is effective, as well, but requires a prescription and should not be taken by pregnant women.
Since Candida is not the only organism that causes vaginal infection, itching, and discharge, it’s important for a clinician to confirm the diagnosis.
– Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D.,
Editor in Chief, Harvard Women’s Health Watch
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