Yeast Infections & Diabetes: What You Need to Know
You probably already know that high blood sugar levels can affect your eyes, your fingers, your toes and your kidneys…but there are other parts of the body we don’t talk about as much. Diabetes can also affect the health of your genital areas.
Yes, high blood sugars can cause yeast infections. Unpleasant, uncomfortable and sometimes really painful, here’s what you need to know about yeast infections as a person with diabetes.
What is a Yeast Infection?
A yeast infection is basically an overgrowth of yeast, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Yeast is technically a fungus, which means they are also “fungal infections.”
Yeast infections are a common struggle for people with diabetes because high blood sugars can easily feed the growth of yeast. When there’s excess sugar in your blood, there will inevitably be excess sugar in your urine which leads to the overgrowth of yeast.
(You can develop a yeast-related infection in your mouth, throat and tongue, too, but this is usually referred to as “thrush”.)
The overgrowth of this otherwise healthy fungus can lead to extremely uncomfortable symptoms that are impossible to ignore.
Yeast infections can occur in women and men, but they are certainly much more common in women.
Yeast infections in women with diabetes: Also known as “vulvovaginal candidiasis” in women, a yeast infection affects the vagina, vulva and around the opening of your vagina. They can be extremely uncomfortable and hard to get rid of.
The vagina actually relies on the presence of yeast at all times to maintain the complex environmental balance that keeps this part of your body healthy.
Yeast infections in men with diabetes: Also known as “jock itch,” yeast infections in men are frequently related to wearing sweaty jock-straps for too long. Especially when combined with high blood sugar levels, a sweaty jockstrap creates the ideal environment for the overgrowth of yeast.
Infections can develop around the testicle, inner thighs and buttocks. It can also develop in and around the head of the penis in those who are uncircumcised.
Signs & Symptoms of a Yeast Infection
The earliest signs and symptoms of a yeast infection are subtle, and easy to ignore at first, but eventually, these symptoms will become extremely uncomfortable.
- Intense itching
- Stinging or burning feeling
- Burning and pain during urination
- Slight odor
- White creamy discharge (earlier stage)
- White discharge, sometimes clumpy (later stage)
- Swelling (in severe cases)
- Pain or burning during vaginal intercourse
- Itching on the outside and inside of the vagina
Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these more severe symptoms, as they could indicate a more urgent health concern:
- Yellow discharge
- Bloody discharge
- Pain in your back or stomach
- Needing to pee frequently
If you’ve never experienced a yeast infection before, contact your healthcare team to help determine what it is before purchasing any over-the-counter medications. Untreated yeast infections can become extremely uncomfortable and painful.
Common Causes of a Yeast Infection
There are a variety of things that can cause a yeast infection. People with diabetes are even more susceptible because combining any one of these variables with even slightly high blood sugar levels creates an easy environment for the overgrowth of yeast.
- High blood sugar levels: Not all high blood sugars will cause a yeast infection, but the frequency and length of time your blood sugar is over 13.9 mmol/L250 mg/dL, the more easily yeast will grow. Yeast infections are also a common early sign of undiagnosed diabetes. If your blood sugars don’t come down to safer levels, you will probably continue to develop yeast infections.
- Certain diabetes medications: Keep reading to learn more about which diabetes medications can cause yeast infections and what you can do about them.
- Antibiotics: Especially for those with diabetes, be very on guard for the earliest signs of a yeast infection when taking antibiotics. The sooner you catch it, the quicker you can treat it and prevent the infection from getting worse. But continue taking your antibiotics as directed by your doctor!
- Severe stress: Severe stress causes many aspects of our regular health to change, and this can throw off the environment of vaginal health, too, especially when stress is combined with any of these other causes.
- Certain types of tampons & pads: Whether it’s scented tampons or just an entire brand, your body may be trying to tell you loud and clear it’s time to try something else! Wearing damp panty-liners all day can also lead to yeast infections, which means you need to change them more often.
- Wet bathing suits, damp underwear, or sweaty jockstraps: Don’t spend the day in your wet bathing suit or a sweaty jockstrap. The moisture creates an ideal environment for the overgrowth of yeast! If you struggle to get through the day without damp underwear, simply make a habit of changing into a new pair halfway through the day.
- Your partner’s sexual chemistry or semen: It’s just simple chemistry, sometimes the balance that keeps them healthy isn’t ideal for your body. This means preventing your partner’s semen from being present in your vagina is a must.
- Douching products: Never douche. Period. Talk to your doctor about vaginal concerns instead of douching.
Diabetes Medications That Can Cause Yeast Infections
The diabetes drug category “SGLT-2 inhibitors” can easily cause yeast infections in women because these drugs encourage your body to excrete excess glucose from the food you eat out through your urine. This means the glucose (sugar) is never entering your bloodstream, but instead your body is passing it through your urine and potentially feeding the growth of yeast.
Diabetes medications that can cause yeast infections include:
- Farxiga (dapagliflozin)
- Invokana (canagliflozin)
- Jardiance (empagliflozin)
The recommended strategies for preventing yeast infections while taking one of these diabetes medications are:
- Drink a lot of water throughout the day. Since your body is using your urine to flush sugar out of your system, you need to stay well-hydrated! Drink. Drink. Drink.
- Eat fewer carbohydrates. If you’re eating a high-carb diet (over 250 to 300 grams per day), then you’ll be flushing more and more sugar out through your urine. Reducing the carbs in your diet, even down to 150 grams per day, can help prevent the overgrowth of yeast because there will be less sugar from your diet in your urine.
- Talk to your doctor about adding another diabetes medication to your regimen to bring your blood sugars down so there’s less sugar being flushed out through your urine.
Talk to your doctor ASAP if you think one of these medications is causing frequent yeast infections. You don’t necessarily have to stop taking the medication, but you should make some other changes to decrease your risk of yeast infections.
Other Causes of Yeast Infections
- Hormonal birth control
- HIV/Aids treatments
- Long-term urinary catheter use
- Anabolic steroids
- Cortisone injections
- Contracting a yeast infection from a woman (usually only in sex between two women)
- A man can potentially contract yeast from an infected woman, but this is very rare
Yeast Infection Treatment Options
Treating a yeast infection can be frustrating because there are a few types of over-the-counter (OTC) “anti-fungal” treatments and they aren’t cheap. Additionally, one type of anti-fungal treatment may not help at all while the next option on the shelf will. It can take some trial and error to determine the best treatment for your body.
- Start by improving your blood sugars: If your yeast infections are frequent and recurring, talk to your healthcare team to help you address what’s causing the infections. Adjusting your diabetes medications can do wonders! No anti-fungal treatment will help a yeast infection if you do not also bring your blood sugars down to a healthy range. Recurring yeast infections mean something in your day-to-day life or your general health needs some attention.
- Over-the-counter antifungal creams: The four types of OTC products you can buy at your local pharmacy are butoconazole, clotrimazole, miconazole and terconazole. These are all creams or small pill-like capsules that are inserted into your vagina or on the affected skin area. Remember, if one type doesn’t work, try a different one. Don’t just change brands—read the fine print to determine which type you’ve already tried.
- Stronger prescription medications: The drug fluconazole and nystatin can be taken by mouth for certain types of long-term infections.
- Male circumcision: In severe cases, a male with recurring yeast infections may need to consider circumcision to prevent further infections.
While yeast infections are generally considered harmless, they can become severe if left untreated. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing recurring yeast infections or a yeast infection that is not clearing within a week of using OTC treatment options.