Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. My posts are based on my experiences as a patient and my subsequent research. Please consult your doctor before making any changes that may affect your health!
Between five and eight percent of women get more than four yeast infections in a year, known as chronic yeast infections — and since I was 17, I have been one of them.
When I started taking the pill at 15, I loved it. My cramps were less intense, my periods were lighter and my boobs were bigger — so, what wasn’t to love? Then, I became sexually active and quickly discovered that things were not as balmy as they seemed: I began experiencing pain, thick discharge and vaginal dryness with sex.
That year, I went on to be diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections multiple times. Each time, my doctors couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with me. At one point, I was even prescribed a topical estrogen cream usually given to women going through menopause to relieve my pain and dryness associated with these infections. Meanwhile, at 17, my sex life was already suffering — I experienced so much pain that I couldn’t orgasm, began to view myself as a “failure” in the bedroom and started avoiding sexual activity whenever I could.
When I went off the pill, I assumed the problem would go away — but it didn’t. In college, I had recurrent bacterial vaginosis, which was always treated with an antibiotic gel that caused yeast infections as a side effect. As a result, I was having two infections a month for over a year. For so long, I wondered what was wrong with me…. and then I learned something that changed my life:
Endometriosis has been linked to chronic vaginal infections.
I learned this after my diagnosis of suspected endometriosis, and my mind was BLOWN. For years, I’d been suffering in silence, thinking there was something wrong with my body, when so much of what bothered me could be explained by a disease shared by one in ten women worldwide! I had been doing everything I could to prevent vaginal infections — taking probiotics, eating yogurt, avoiding sitting in sweaty clothing for long periods of time — yet still couldn’t seem to get rid of them. Now, things were finally starting to make sense. I was so overwhelmed with joy, I practically cried in the car on the way home from my doctor’s appointment.
Don’t get me wrong: if you suffer from chronic yeast infections, it’s important to see your doctor for testing and treatment. Chronic yeast infections can be a sign of diabetes, and untreated yeast infections can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (which may cause infertility down the line); these are just two reasons why you should always consult your doctor when you get multiple yeast infections in a year. However, if you suffer from endometriosis as well as chronic yeast infections that cannot be explained, it’s worth considering whether your endometriosis could be to blame.
Here’s what I’ve learned about the link between endometriosis and yeast infections, as well as some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years to lessen the frequency of yeast infections and help clear them up faster.
The Relationship Between Endometriosis and Chronic Yeast Infections
There’s a link between chronic yeast infections and endometriosis, but it’s still not clear why these two conditions often overlap. According to the book Endometriosis for Dummies, there’s no conclusive research to show why endometriosis and chronic yeast infections frequently occur together.
One possible explanation involves the link between endometriosis and autoimmune diseases; immunocomprimization may also increase your risk for frequent infections. Endometriosis sufferers are also more prone to allergies, which may make you intolerant to even normal levels of candida, resulting in vaginitis.
Another explanation could result from the link between candida albicans (the strain of yeast responsible for vaginal infections) and estrogen dominance. Yeast overgrowth is more likely when your estrogen levels are too high and your progesterone levels are too low — which, you may remember from my blog post on estrogen balance, is another sign of endometriosis.
How to Manage Chronic Yeast Infections
If you have endometriosis, the bad news is that chronic yeast infections may be something you have to live with forever. The good news, however, is that there are many preventative measures you can take to reduce the frequency of yeast infections and make yourself more comfortable when you do get them.
Based on my years (and years) of experience, here is some of my best advice on managing chronic yeast infections:
- Beware of homeopathic remedies. Over the years, I’ve heard of many at-home remedies for yeast infections. (One even involved tying a clove of garlic to a string and putting it up your vagina like a tampon.) But yeast infections are not to be f*cked with, okay? The consequences of an untreated yeast infection can be serious, including Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. PID can lead to scarring of the ovaries and fallopian tubes, which contributes to infertility. That’s already a problem for many of us with endometriosis. I say you’re better off safe than sorry. While I get wanting to do things the “natural way,” yeast infections are one instance where you should definitely suck it up and buy the Monistat.
- Stop using tampons. There is no scientific evidence that I’m aware of to show that tampons cause vaginal infections. That being said, the incidence of my chronic vaginal infections (both bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections) decreased dramatically when I stopped using them. I’m convinced that if someone were to fund a study into it, they would hear many women say the same thing. And it makes sense: tampons sit in your vagina for hours, harboring bacteria. Many conventional tampons contain chemicals that can affect your vagina’s pH, allowing bad bacteria to grow rampant. I switched to organic cotton pads with no bleach and no chlorine, and have experienced dramatic improvement in my chronic vaginal infections since. If you must use tampons, however (for example, to swim or exercise), I suggest switching to organic, cotton-only tampons with no chemicals — and changing them frequently (as in, more frequently than you think you need to!) to promote good hygiene.
- Avoid fragrances, synthetic materials and other irritants. If you have endometriosis, you are likely more prone to allergic reactions and sensitivities than the average person — meaning you may experience yeast infection-like symptoms (read: itching and/or burning) if exposed to an irritant “down there.” Minimizing your exposure to potential irritants will make you more comfortable in the long run and prevent you from unnecessarily treating something you may think is a yeast infection, when it’s really an allergic reaction. Potential irritants include period products, vaginal hygiene products (like scented soaps or sprays) and synthetic panties. Try switching to organic, all-cotton pads, using only unscented soap on your vagina (not to mention, avoiding douching) and only wearing panties with an inner patch made of 100-percent cotton. Remember: your vagina is a self-cleaning oven and its pH is very easily thrown off by the products you use on it! Stick to the bare minimum and I promise you will see a major difference.
- Consider supplementing your diet. Most at-home yeast infection remedies are, in my opinion, bullsh*t. However, there are a few which have a lot of anecdotal evidence behind them (and they aren’t the garlic-up-the-vagina theory) and have been effective for me. One is increasing the number of probiotic foods in your diet, such as yogurt and fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha). You can also take a probiotic supplement containing lactobacillus, one of the most important “good bacteria” that lives in your vagina, for extra support. Another supplement I’ve had a positive experience with is the Perfect Condition Vitamin from Love Wellness. It contains grapefruit seed extract, which supports a healthy balance of yeast in the vaginal flora, as well as anti-inflammatory ingredients like turmeric that are overall positive for endometriosis sufferers!