The female reproductive system consists of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and vagina. The vagina is a muscular canal that leads from the outside of the body to the uterus. The warmth and moisture of this canal create a perfect environment for microorganisms to breed. For example, bacteria called lactobacilli, which are naturally present in the vagina, coexist with a yeast fungus called Candida albicans. Normally, the lactobacilli create an acidic environment that keeps the natural yeast population in balance. However, when conditions within the vagina change that either decrease the numbers of lactobacilli or decrease the acidity, these yeast fungi begin to multiply. The growing yeast population causes irritation in the walls of the vagina and is accompanied by mild to severe itching. In addition, a white, lumpy discharge can form that looks similar to cottage cheese and carries an unpleasant odor. Yeast infections can develop following a course of medications to treat other illnesses; the reason being that the medications that destroy illness-causing bacteria in the body also destroy the normal bacteria present in the vagina. Other medications, diet, pregnancy, and wearing clothing that is tight, damp or contains dyes can also alter the vaginal environment and increase the risk for yeast infections. Fortunately, over-the-counter medications are now available to treat this condition. Persistent or frequent yeast infections need to be evaluated by a doctor or healthcare professional.
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