Women should be aware of the symptoms of gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and diabetes resulting from PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).
If you notice the symptoms of diabetes, the NHS advises that you contact a GP as soon as possible.
Treating diabetes early can help to prevent further health complications.
- What are the symptoms of diabetes that are specific to women?
- Common symptoms of diabetes
- Female sexual dysfunction (FSD)
- Gestational diabetes
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Diabetes and Feminine Health: What Women Need to Know
- A Greater Risk of Yeast Infections
- Warding Off Bacterial Infections
- Maintaining Feminine Health With Diabetes
- Cynthia’s story
- Causes of yeast infection due to diabetes
- How is it a symptom of diabetes?
- Having high blood sugars slows down the immune system
- Recognizing signs
- Diagnosing yeast infection
- How can I reduce the risks?
- Prevention of yeast infection
- Over to you
- What are the causes of genital itchiness?
- Diabetes and genital itching
- Recognising genital itching
- When to see your doctor
- Type 2 Diabetes and Yeast Infections
- Blood Sugar and Yeast Infections
- Diabetes and the Ability to Fight Yeast Infections
- Yeast Infection Treatment
- Lowering Your Risk for Yeast Infections
- How to Get your Sex Life Back on Track
What are the symptoms of diabetes that are specific to women?
Women may experience the following symptoms:
- Thrush and yeast infections
- Itchiness around the vagina
- Female sexual dysfunction
This is over and above the general symptoms of diabetes, which include the following:
Common symptoms of diabetes
Vaginal thrush (vulvovaginal candidiasis) can be a symptom of diabetes as high blood sugar levels can cause glucose to be excreted via the urine.
Glucose in the urine can create a fertile breeding ground for yeast infections.
Symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include:
- Soreness and itching around the vagina
- Reddening of the skin
- A white curd like appearance on the skin
- White vaginal discharge
- Pain during intercourse
Oral yeast infections can also occur as a symptom of diabetes.
Female sexual dysfunction (FSD)
Female sexual dysfunction (FSD) can cause difficulties in sexual activity in the following ways:
- Lack of sex drive
- Difficulty with arousal and achieving orgasm
- Pain during intercourse (dyspareunia)
High blood sugar levels over a period of time can lead to poor blood supply and/or nerve damage which can lead to problems with arousal and achieving orgasm.
High blood sugar can also lead to a lack of natural lubrication in the vagina which can make sex difficult or painful.
Psychological reasons can be an alternative reason for female sexual dysfunction
Download a free symptoms factsheet for your phone, PC or to print out.
Gestational diabetes is a specific form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. The symptoms of gestational diabetes are the same as for other forms of diabetes.
Sometimes the symptoms may not be noticeable. For this reason, women are generally screened for gestational diabetes between weeks 24 and 28 of their pregnancy. Gestational diabetes develops in about 3 to 5% of all pregnancies.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition in which the ovaries have a larger number of cysts on then normal.
The cysts are under-developed follicles containing eggs. The NHS notes that PCOS may be linked with higher levels of insulin in the body, which is more common in people who are overweight and people with type 2 diabetes.
Whilst a diagnosis of PCOS does not mean you have diabetes, it is linked with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes and Feminine Health: What Women Need to Know
Anyone who has experienced a yeast infection knows how unpleasant the condition can be. Abnormal vaginal discharge, itching and burning, painful intercourse and urination, and redness and swelling — any of these common symptoms can put a dent in a woman’s sex life or simply impact her daily comfort level. For women with type 2 diabetes, combating this issue and maintaining feminine health overall can be of particular concern, especially if their blood sugar is poorly controlled.
A Greater Risk of Yeast Infections
“Control of blood sugars is important for the whole body,” says Mache Seibel, MD, a gynecologist and obstetrician at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “But an area that isn’t much talked about is how elevated blood sugars seep into vaginal tissues and set up an environment that’s more favorable for yeast infections.”
Vaginal tissue contains a balance of microorganisms, like yeast and bacteria, Dr. Seibel explains, but excess sugar in the blood can fuel the growth of yeast, potentially leading to an infection.
“Think about baking bread and how yeast thrives much better when you add sugar,” says Susan Renda, CDE, doctor of nursing practice and assistant professor in the department of community–public health at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore. “I tell patients, ‘You have a nice little balance in your body, but when you throw a cake and cookie party, all the yeast comes to the party and just starts to go nuts.’”
Frequent urination, which can occur when glucose levels are high and the body works to rid itself of excess sugar, can add to the problem by bringing additional sugar found in the urine to the vaginal area. Certain diabetes drugs, such as canagliflozin (Invokana, Invokamet, or Invokamet XR), an SGLT-2 inhibitor, lower blood sugars by excreting glucose in the urine, which can also add to the sugar in the vaginal area and increase the chance of mild yeast infections.
If you experience any signs of a potential yeast infection, call your doctor to confirm the diagnosis and discuss further management.
Warding Off Bacterial Infections
Women with diabetes also tend to be at a greater risk of bacterial vaginosis, a condition that occurs when there is too much of a certain bacteria in the vagina, and can increase the chance of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) developing.
Bacterial infections can produce fevers, chills, and a foul-smelling discharge from the vagina. Antibiotics are required to treat the condition.
“The normal acidic environment of the vagina provides a natural barrier to infection and irritation, since it represses the growth of bad bacteria, which prefer a less acidic environment,” says Seibel. “As long as the good bacteria count is high and the vaginal pH is acidic, bad bacteria have a very slim chance of overgrowing, making the chance of infection low.”
Seibel explains that women with diabetes tend to have a more alkaline, rather than acidic, pH, but controlling your blood sugar can help increase your acidity, thereby warding off bacterial infections. Seibel says the normal vaginal pH is about 3.5 to 4.5. Lower pH readings are considered acidic, while those that are greater than 4.5 are considered alkaline.
Diabetes can also prevent women’s bodies from healing from bacterial infections.
“When people have blood sugars over 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter), they don’t heal as well, and the immune system doesn’t act the way it should against bacteria,” says Dr. Renda. For people with diabetes, the Joslin Diabetes Center, a clinic and research and education center in Boston, recommends a fasting plasma blood glucose range of between 70 and 130 mg/dL, a plasma blood glucose range of less than 180 mg/dL after meals, and a plasma glucose range of between 90 and 150 mg/dL at bedtime.
Along with problems fighting such infections, women with diabetes who get frequent yeast infections may mistakenly self-diagnose their condition and end up treating a bacterial problem with over-the-counter yeast medication rather than antibiotics.
“It’s a good idea for women with diabetes to treat themselves more carefully than the general population when it comes to vaginal health,” says Seibel. “If something doesn’t seem normal compared with when they’re feeling healthy, they should consult with a medical professional.”
Maintaining Feminine Health With Diabetes
If you have diabetes, keeping your blood sugar in check is the best way to avoid vaginal infections. To further reduce your risk of complications related to feminine health, follow these tips:
- Eat yogurt with live cultures, or take tablets of Lactobacillus acidophilus, a bacteria naturally found in the vagina, to promote vaginal acidity and reduce the risk of yeast infections.
- Practice good hygiene, keeping the genital area cool and dry. Warm and moist areas are more susceptible to yeast infections.
- Avoid douching, as it removes healthy bacteria lining the vagina that protect against infection.
- Stay well hydrated. Drinking more water can keep the vagina hydrated and the pH in balance.
- Use condoms to avoid catching or spreading other infections.
- Wear cotton underwear, and avoid tight-fitting or scented garments that can cause irritation or promote moisture in the vaginal area.
- Avoid wearing wet bathing suits or used workout gear for longer than necessary.
I don’t know how much we can help, but I’ll try. I also do not know how easy it is for you to seek medical care in your part of Africa. I do know that there are some excellent medical facilities in South Africa.
Vaginal discharges have many causes. What helps to differentiate some of the causes includes the color of the discharge, the odor of the discharge, whether or not the girl has itching where the discharge is, and other considerations as well.
I presume that your little six-year-old daughter has no signs of puberty, such as breast swelling or hair in her vaginal area and that the discharge does not look like menstrual blood. Age six would be too soon for a girl for any of these. But, this is important because some of the causes of vaginal discharge in a teenage or adult female would not be expected in a six-year old pre-pubertal girl.
The common cause of vaginal discharge in a girl with diabetes would be due to a vaginal yeast infection. This typically is associated with extreme itchiness and redness to the girl’s vaginal area. The discharge is typically white and typically does not have a foul-smelling odor. One would expect the blood glucose or urine glucose to be higher than normal with normal being a fasting blood glucose less than 100 mg/dL and there should be no glucose in the urine. If the discharge had a bad smell and/or if there were brownish or reddish discoloration, then I would be suspicious that perhaps there is a small foreign object inside the vagina that is causing irritation. This would have nothing to do with diabetes. It is not uncommon for little girls to stick things inside themselves (like a small pebble or the eraser top to a pencil); often, a small bit of toilet tissue gets inside and then leads to irritation. There are some not-too-worrisome germs that can infect and irritate the vagina, even in a pre-pubertal girl. These “non-specific” vaginal infections often are easily cleared up with special vaginal creams and/or medications that are taken by mouth. The correct medicine would depend on what germ or germs are identified. Unfortunately, these days, we also need to keep in mind the possibility that the little girl has caught some vaginal infection because of sexual abuse. Circumstances in her life can help you and her doctor decide how heavily to pursue this concern. A very smelly vaginal discharge that smells of bowel movement is not common, but might suggest a small connection between the rectum and the vagina.
Finally, diabetes mellitus typically is associated with obvious increased urinary and thirst habits, and you didn’t describe these.
So, I’d suggest the following, especially given the poor weight gain: Ask your doctor to measure a blood glucose and urine test from first thing in the morning before she has had anything to eat or drink. This would preferably be done by a needle poke from a vein (and not a little “finger poke”) that is analyzed in a hospital or clinic laboratory and not a bedside glucose monitor. Get more details of the vaginal discharge and explain them to your healthcare provider. Your little girl may need to have an exam from the inside of her vagina – not like an adult woman has…but similar. Commonly, little girls have to be significantly sedated or given anesthesia for this. This would be especially true to attempt to assess and remove any foreign body in the vagina.
Your doctor should try to obtain some of the discharge in a sterile manner so that it can be examined in the laboratory and under a microscope for specific types of germs.
This is a good start. Good luck. Please let us know what you learn.
If you tend to get yeast infections that are difficult to resolve, it could be a sign that you have diabetes. They are more common in people with this chronic condition.
Such infections are caused by a fungus called candidiasis. Severe itching, discharge from the area affected and irritation of the affected area are hallmark signs of a yeast infection. Diabetes is just one of the conditions that can increase your risk of having them somewhere in your body.
Women tend to get them more frequently in their vaginal area, but there are many other places that they can occur. In this article, we will look at why diabetes increases your risk of developing fungal infections such as yeast infections.
Though yeast is always growing in our bodies, it can present a problem by upsetting our body’s delicate balance if it overgrows. Bacteria, which is considered as our “normal flora,” or bacteria that is present in our body as part of our normal make-up, can also overgrow and offset yeast growth. Both situations would require attention and treatment.
When Cynthia came in for diabetes education, she looked visibly uncomfortable. She couldn’t stop moving around in her seat in the clinic room. When asked what was wrong, Cynthia sighed and relayed how she had these nagging vaginal yeast infections that wouldn’t go away.
She had been to the doctor three times this year. During her first visit, they gave her crème for treatment, and the second time, she was prescribed to take two rounds of pills, one pill each week for two weeks. Despite her best efforts, her infection had come back.
We had been working on Cynthia’s blood sugars. Her A1C was 8.4% and her blood sugars were out of her target range. She hadn’t made much progress so far. Her blood sugar logs that day also showed blood sugars higher than her target.
We discussed how hard it was for her to get rid of it because her blood sugars weren’t managed well. A lightbulb went off in Cynthia’s mind and she finally felt motivated to get her blood sugars down.
Normally, Cynthia didn’t have many symptoms of her diabetes besides feeling a bit fatigued sometimes. She hadn’t felt the need to get her numbers down when most of the time she felt fine.
Realizing that her blood sugars might be responsible for the persistent vaginal itching that she was experiencing, she finally wanted to work on her diabetes and get her blood sugars down and her A1C below 7%. We worked on a plan for Cynthia to do just that, and now that she has her blood sugars under control, she hasn’t had another infection.
Let’s find out why people with diabetes can get more yeast infections than other people do, and why getting them frequently could be a sign of your undiagnosed diabetes…
Causes of yeast infection due to diabetes
The reason that someone with diabetes gets more yeast infections is due to high blood sugar and a few other factors, which we will discuss below. The stickiness of blood sugar provides a host environment for the bacteria to grow and thrive.
Medications don’t help in killing off all the buds growing due to the environment for them remains high in sugar. It’s a vicious cycle that’s not remedied until blood sugars are brought into a target range and A1C comes down.
Fungal infections can be passed from one person to another during sexual intercourse. However, it is not considered a sexually transmitted disease.
How is it a symptom of diabetes?
It can be a symptom of uncontrolled diabetes due to several factors:
High blood sugars
An overgrowth of yeast resulting in an infection is primarily due to high blood sugars as it grows when sugar is present. If diabetes hasn’t been controlled well, blood sugars are not in a target range and A1C is not below 7%, it’s likely that someone with diabetes will get more infections.
It can grow more rapidly when blood sugars are high. Sugar is found in sweat, urine and mucous secretions. Therefore, any part of the body where any of the those three are found, sugar will be higher in that area. The fungus will be more likely to grow in this sweet, sticky medium.
Glycogen is used to hold and store sugar. For people with diabetes, there is an increased amount of glycogen, which also provides more opportunity for the yeast to take hold and overgrow.
Having high blood sugars slows down the immune system
In 2015, a research study showed that high blood sugars do indeed slow the immune system in our body down, which may in part account for why yeast infections are hard to get rid of in the diabetes population.
It takes hold by forming a colony of yeast buds. With a large amount of sugar present, these buds may never fully die off, even with treatment.
However, once treatment is stopped, they start to divide and multiply rapidly. Therefore, recurrent infections in people with diabetes and uncontrolled blood sugars may be one that never really goes away.
In Type 1 Diabetes
As women are particularly susceptible to vaginal infections, a study done in 2013 showed that Type 1 Diabetes and vaginal yeast infections were in fact linked to each other. Higher blood sugars correlated with an increased incidence of vaginal infections due to yeast. The study found a direct link between high blood sugars in women and children with T1D.
In Type 2 Diabetes
In 2014, researchers found that women with Type 2 Diabetes are at an even greater risk. The researchers were unable to conclude if this was due only to high blood sugars or another factor.
Other than vaginal yeast infections common in women, they can occur anywhere on the skin where there is a moist environment and high blood sugars. Let’s look at the signs and symptoms of the different kinds that can occur.
Vaginal yeast infections
These are particularly aggravating for women because they cause severe itching on the labia of the vagina and the skin surrounding the vagina with irritation of the vaginal wall itself. There may be irritation of the vaginal wall, or if severe, they may extend to the skin on and around the vagina.
On top of the itching which can be incredibly uncomfortable, there is often a thick, white, “cottage cheese” type discharge. It may or may not have an odor. Painful intercourse is also an issue because of its presence on the genitals in both men and women.
Often, infections to the vagina can occur alongside other infections such as Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), which is also more common in women with diabetes and requires medication and treatment. Either of the two can travel to other areas and cause severe problems if left untreated.
Infection of the skin
Infections of the skin can occur just about anywhere in men or women. A reddened area of skin with some clear drainage from tiny fluid-filled bumps can develop and spread rapidly if blood sugars are high with diabetes, for example, or if the area is provided with a moist environment for yeast to grow.
Prime places for this to occur are in skin folds and underneath breast tissue. Overweight and obese individuals may have more difficulty with this, and they are also more likely to have diabetes. Skin can be affected between fingers or between toes. Nail beds can also help them in developing. The groin area is a prime location for the fungus to take hold in both men and women.
Men may get scaly or bumpy patches in skin folds or on the genitals. Localized redness and inflammation occurs, accompanied by itching and spreading of the infection to all moist areas in the vicinity. You can read more on Eric Bakker’s blog.
Infection of the mouth
Another type of infection that can occur is commonly called “Thrush.” White patches that won’t wipe off with a wet washcloth develop on the mouth, tongue, and cheeks. Infants often get this early on. It’s related to an immature immune system and possibly the antibiotics given at birth, rather than related to diabetes or other chronic conditions.
Diagnosing yeast infection
To diagnose the one of the vagina, visit your gynecologist. Sexually transmitted diseases have similar symptoms to vaginal yeast infections. Some common STDs that can mimic a such infection are trichomonas, chlamydia, gonorrhea, as well as one we’ve mentioned here already, Bacterial Vaginosis (though this is not considered an STD)
If it is an STD, and not a yeast infection, leaving it untreated can result in serious damage to female reproductive organs, arthritis (chlamydia) and more health problems.
The doctor will take a look at your history and physical and look at any medications being taken, especially antibiotics that could upset the pH balance in the vagina and cause yeast to overgrow. The doctor will perform an examination of the pelvis using a speculum, which is inserted into the vagina.
After an exam for external symptoms has been done, the doctor will obtain a vaginal swab to send off to a laboratory. The laboratory will check the sample of vaginal secretions for the Candida fungus, bacterial vaginosis, and STDs. This way, you will be sure about the diagnosis of the vaginal yeast infection if found, and that no co-existing STDs are present.
The laboratory will also identify the type of infection that you have. Some varieties are especially problematic to get rid of, so it’s good to know what type of fungus it is so that the appropriate medication can be prescribed.
If you have recurring infections but aren’t diagnosed with diabetes, discuss whether you should have a screening for diabetes. This can be done at your primary care provider office. If you need a screening for diabetes, set an appointment to get a check-up and necessary blood screenings.
How can I reduce the risks?
If you have diabetes, you can see your gynecologist regularly for screenings related to vaginal yeast infections. Any time you notice the signs and symptoms mentioned above, you can notify your health care provider.
If it becomes obvious that you are having many with no space between which amounts to one continual run, you need to make sure your diabetes is well-managed. Get your blood sugars and A1C down now and keep them within your target ranges to allow the medications prescribed to you to work and get rid of them once and for all.
Stay on a healthy diet, count carbohydrates and eat whole grains high in fiber, and get plenty of exercise and sleep to help manage your diabetes.
What increases the risk?
Diabetes and high blood sugars increase the risk of getting these fungal infections. There are other things, such as using perfumed soaps and vaginal douches that can increase the risk of getting this common infection.
People with weak immune systems, such as people with HIV infection, are prone to more yeast overgrowth.
As a mild options, you may be given a crème to apply with an applicator to the inside of the vagina and the labia. You could also be given a gel or a suppository, depending on your doctor’s preferred treatment method.
Generally, if they are recurring often, you may need a pill to get rid of them, or maybe even more than one pill. Some of the crème, gel and suppository medications that are given specifically to treat the vaginal area are listed below:
- Clotrimazole (name brand GyneLotrimin)
- Terconazole (name brand Terazol 3)
- Butoconazole (name brand Gynazole-1)
- Miconazole (name brand Monistat-3)
It can also be treated with an oral medication called fluconazole, (name brand Diflucan). Generally, the doctor will prescribe one pill. If it’s a particularly difficult yeast infection to get rid of, they may have you take this medication more than one time.
I’ve seen people with diabetes prescribed one pill per week for four weeks. The doctor could also prescribe two doses, and have you space them out by three days for severe infections. Other prescribing options for severe infections are two weeks of cremes to start out, once a week Diflucan for up to six months or a once a week suppository for up to six months.
In 2007, scientists discovered that women with diabetes tend to get a strain of fungus called candida glabrata. This strain responded well to a one time a week suppository inserted into the vagina for six months.
Prevention of yeast infection
Remember that if your blood sugars are out of control, then you may still get yeast infections despite treatment. In that case, getting blood sugars down will help more than just about anything else to prevent them. Remember that by controlling your diabetes, you will also be preventing other complications of diabetes such as heart disease, nerve function loss, vision loss and more.
You can prevent infections by following some basic principles that help prevent them from overgrowing. They are:
- Wear white, cotton underwear that is not too tight fitting (tight fitting clothes give the fungus a warm, moist place to thrive and grow in)
- Don’t wear other tight-fitting clothing that binds in moisture and helps it to grow
- When you’re finished with activities that cause you to sweat, take a shower and change clothes right away
- Take showers, not baths and stay away from hot tubs
- Don’t use vaginal douches or vaginal sprays, cremes or gels (except those prescribed for your infection)
- When menstruating, make sure to change pads often. Avoid tampons, or change them often, and get the plain kind, not the scented pads or tampons
- Avoid strong soaps and soaps that are scented, as well as changing laundry detergents
Long-term risks or complications of not treating yeast infections
If you don’t treat them and let them grow, it can spread. In severe cases, it can overgrow in the entire digestive tract and even get in the bloodstream, which can be a dangerous situation. Most fungal infections don’t cause these severe problems, but you will need to have them treated just the same.
What are the other causes of yeast infection besides diabetes?
There are many different causes besides diabetes. They are common in people despite diabetes or not, though people with diabetes are more susceptible.
It’s helpful to understand what upsets the balance between yeast and bacteria and causes yeast to grow rapidly outweighing the delicate balance of yeast and bacteria that exist in our bodies. When medications kill off yeast, bacteria can overgrow. When antibiotics kill off bacteria, it sets up an environment where the other can overgrow.
Here are a few of the ways you can develop it that have nothing to do with diabetes:
- When you take antibiotics
- When you take pills for birth control
- When you take hormone therapy treatments
- When your immune system is impaired (as is the case in T1D)
- When you engage in sexual intercourse with someone with an active yeast infection (note that yeast infections are not considered STDs)
- When you become pregnant
When should I contact my doctor?
If you notice any of the symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor right away. Symptoms of itching, redness, and irritation can spread as buds divide and multiply. With a vaginal yeast infection, you may have symptoms of a urinary tract infection as the it tends to inflame the urethra, causing burning urine.
If left untreated, yeast infections can become systemic and spread to other areas of your body. Once you get your infection treated, most tend to clear up within two weeks. If symptoms reoccur, call your doctor. They may be able to call you on a medication or recommend a course of over-the-counter treatment for you.
Is yeast infection painful and permanent?
It can be painful as redness and inflammation increase, but it will go away with the appropriate treatment and by keeping blood sugars in target ranges and practicing good diabetes self-management skills if you have this condition.
How common are they with people with diabetes?
About 75% of women will have at least one vaginal yeast infection sometime in their lives, with about 50% of women experiencing two or more infections. Still, women with diabetes and out of control blood sugars can have what appears to be a perpetual yeast infection.
Are there any treatments for yeast infections that I can try at home?
Most creams and suppositories are available over-the-counter, but you should make sure that what you have is indeed an infection and not a urinary tract infection or an STD before trying to treat it yourself. The only way to know this is to see a doctor and have the laboratory test officially.
About eight ounces of yogurt with active cultures per day can be used to help prevent yeast overgrowth, although this is only for prevention, and it can’t be used to get rid of a current infection. Other home remedies include boric acid, tea tree oil, coconut oil and oregano oil. These also will not get rid of an infection, and there is some question as to their effectiveness at all.
Lactobacillis acidophilus capsules may also be found at your pharmacy and taken for prevention of infection. Saccharomyces boulardii is another probiotic that can be taken as well. Take these based on the package instructions provided.
The best thing to do is to see your doctor, although eating yogurt certainly can’t hurt and it’s good for you (just count the carbohydrates in it!)
Are there any tests available?
Over to you
We hope that article has shed some light on yeast infections and diabetes, and how keeping your blood sugars well managed will help you prevent them or get rid of the one if you already have one.
Have you ever had one that was stubborn to get rid of? How did you finally get rid of it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below. We love to hear from you.
TheDiabetesCouncil Article | Reviewed by Dr. Jerry Ramos MD on August 15, 2018
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Last Updated: Tuesday, September 4, 2018 Last Reviewed: Tuesday, September 4, 2018
Genital itching in either sex is an irritating problem that can simply be caused by allergies and skin irritations, or by more serious disorders and diseases such as diabetes
In cases where genital itching is caused by irritation or allergy, avoiding exposure to the irritant or allergen may be all that is needed for the itching to resolve.
However, other causes of the condition may be more difficult to treat or may require more intensive treatment and could ultimately lead to serious complications.
What are the causes of genital itchiness?
Itching in the genital region can result from a wide range of things, including:
- Allergic reactions
- Bacterial vaginosis – a disease of the vagina caused by bacteria
- Cancer (penile and vulval cancers) – rare types of cancer that occur in the skin or tissues of the penis and a woman’s external genitals (vulva), respectively
- Diabetes mellitus
- Chemical irritants such as detergents, fabric softeners, soaps, creams, ointments and sexual lubricants
- Menopause – a drop in the hormone estrogen causes vaginal dryness
- Pubic lice – parasitic insects, also known as crabs, that typically live in pubic hair
- Scabies – a contagious, extremely itchy skin disease caused by tiny mites
- Sexually transmitted diseases, such as genital herpes and trichomoniasis
- Skin conditions – such as psoriasis and eczema
- Tinea cruris – a fungal skin infection also known as ringworm of the groin
- Vaginal yeast infection
- Vaginitis – inflammation of the vaginal tissues
Note that many of the infectious causes of genital itching, such as STDs and yeast infection, are contagious.
Diabetes and genital itching
Genital itching and burning can indicate a female or male yeast infection.
Regular yeast infections are a sign of type 2 diabetes
In diabetes, blood glucose levels can go abnormally high, which can therefore provide ideal conditions for naturally present yeast to grow and also diminishes the body’s ability to fight infection.
Diabetes can also cause a higher glucose content in the urine – another extremely suitable place for yeast to thrive.
Recognising genital itching
Genital itching is the term used to describe itching, burning or redness/soreness in and around the vagina or penis.
When to see your doctor
If you have genital itching that does not disappear after a couple days or more, or causes you concer, talk to your doctor or another healthcare professional.
Failure to seek professional medical advice could lead to further problems, such as spread of infectious disease through close body contact (usually sexual contact) or a secondary skin infection.
Additionally, it could mean an underlying disease, such as type 2 diabetes, is left diagnosed, thus increasing your risk of diabetic complications
If you have diabetes and are regularly getting genital itching, it could be a sign that your blood glucose levels are too high. Your health team may be able to advise whether this is the case and, if so, how to bring your blood glucose levels under better control.
Type 2 Diabetes and Yeast Infections
A vaginal yeast infection, also known as candidiasis, is a condition that causes itching and irritation around the vagina, a thick white vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese, and burning when using the bathroom or having sex.
Although many women experience yeast infections, women with type 2 diabetes are at a greater risk, especially if their blood sugar levels are higher than normal.
Blood Sugar and Yeast Infections
Most women have yeast organisms as part of their normal flora, the tiny microorganisms that live on and inside our bodies. These microorganisms don’t cause any discomfort or symptoms because they’re limited in number. But when there’s overgrowth, their presence becomes a problem.
“No one knows exactly why yeast infections are more common , but there is a definite association with how well a person’s diabetes is controlled,” says Vincent Woo, MD, endocrinologist at the University of Manitoba Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, Canada. An increased level of blood sugar from diabetes affects the entire body, not just the blood. “Elevated blood sugar appears in the mucus of the vagina and vulva, so they serve as an excellent culture medium for yeast,” says Daniel Einhorn, MD, a former president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and medical director of the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute in San Diego. Yeast gets energy from sugar, so in an environment that is moist with sugar, yeast may overgrow.
Diabetes and the Ability to Fight Yeast Infections
The effects of diabetes on the body become more obvious as time goes on. People who don’t keep good control of their blood sugar may develop complications related to the constantly high levels. One such complication is a difficulty in fighting off infections, either bacterial or fungal.
Dr. Einhorn explains, “Some women, especially those with poorly controlled diabetes, have some compromise in their ability to fight off any infection.” This means that once a yeast infection has begun, getting rid of it may not be that easy.
Yeast Infection Treatment
Treatment of a yeast infection is the same for people with diabetes as for those without it. “These infections are managed the way as any other yeast infection. All the standard agents will work,” says Einhorn.
Over-the-counter treatments consist of antifungal vaginal creams and suppositories, which are used for one to seven days, depending on the product. Your doctor can tell you which product is best for you.
If you get yeast infections very frequently or they don’t completely go away, your doctor may treat you for longer periods of time or prescribe a yeast infection medication called Diflucan (fluconazole). This is an effective treatment for yeast infections, but it shouldn’t be used if you’re pregnant.
Although most women believe they can tell if they have a yeast infection, this isn’t always the case. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many women often misdiagnose themselves and buy over-the-counter yeast infection treatments that are ineffective for their problem. This is dangerous because the real problem is not being properly treated. If you’re not certain that you have a yeast infection, or if your symptoms don’t go away with over-the-counter treatment, see your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Lowering Your Risk for Yeast Infections
While yeast infections can’t always be prevented, you can lower your risk of developing one, even if you have type 2 diabetes. Some tips that may help prevent yeast infections include:
- Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes.
- Wear cotton underwear.
- Eat yogurt with live cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Still, notes Einhorn, “The most important is to optimize glucose control, so that the sugar in the secretions from the vulva and vagina doesn’t promote the buildup of yeast.”
For more on diabetes complications, check out Diabetes Daily’s article “Diabetes and Infections”!
How to Get your Sex Life Back on Track
For some sexual matters, a quick fix may be enough. For others, you may need a two- or three-pronged approach.
- Start with your doctor. About 80% of women with diabetes don’t bring up sexual issues with their doctors. Don’t be one of them. Your doctor can narrow down the possible causes of your sexual problems and suggest treatments. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your doctor about sex, ask for a referral to a doctor who specializes in sexual medicine.
Sexual issues can have many causes, and some may not even be related to diabetes. Medications, like some antidepressants and antibiotics, can cause sexual side effects. Other health issues or habits, like smoking and drinking too much alcohol, can also have an impact.
- Ease vaginal dryness. Prescription or over-the-counter vaginal lubricants can smooth the path to better sex. But don’t just reserve them for sex. It may help to use one regularly. Ask your OB/GYN doctor to suggest a lubricant, especially if you are trying to get pregnant. (Some can interfere with sperm.)
If you are in menopause or postmenopause, a prescription low-dose estrogen ring or cream that you apply in your vagina can help. Taken in this form, your whole body doesn’t absorb the estrogen. So heart disease, stroke, and cancer are less of a risk. There is also a non-estrogen pill that may help with painful sex after menopause. Ospemifene (Osphena) acts like estrogen to help make the vagina thicker and less fragile. It does carry warnings about increased risks of stroke, deep vein thrombosis, and endometrial cancer.
- Explore your pleasure zones. New techniques or sex toys may help if you have lost sexual desire or sensation. Explore areas of your body beyond your genitals. Spice up intimacy with oral sex, a vibrator, stroking, or a massage. Also, slow down sex if you need to. “Your body responds more slowly because of diabetes,” Roszler says. “Tell your partner if you need more time.”
- Move your body outside of bed. Exercise can improve your sex life in many ways. It reduces stress, improves flexibility, releases feel-good hormones, and keeps you looking and feeling good.
- Consider depression. “Be aware that depression is an issue for many women with diabetes,” Marrero says. “Get screened for it if it’s a concern. Get treated if you have it.” Counseling, antidepressants, or a combination of both can help. Counseling may also help if you’re anxious about sex because of pain, Roszler says.
- Try a Mediterranean diet. In a 2010 study, women with type 2 diabetes who ate a diet focused on fruits, vegetables, potatoes, beans, and whole grains reported being more satisfied in all areas of sex than women with type 2 diabetes who did not. A Mediterranean diet also appears to improve blood sugar levels more than a standard low-fat diet and protects against diabetes-linked health issues. So it may be a win-win for you.
- Get your diabetes under control. Keep your blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol in check. Among other benefits, you’ll have less chance of getting urinary tract and vaginal yeast infections. You may still have some sexual challenges. But just as sex is good for diabetes, staying healthy is good for sex.