As someone living with type 2 diabetes mellitus, you have probably experienced common symptoms like hunger, thirst, fatigue, frequent urination, and blurry vision. A diabetes symptom that is less often discussed — but just as common — is yeast infections.
This article answers commonly asked questions about yeast infections to help you live better with diabetes. Always speak with your physician if you experience yeast infection symptoms or if your other diabetes symptoms worsen.
Yeast infections are fungal infections that can affect the mouth, esophagus, skin, nails, and genitals. Vulvovaginal candidiasis (a yeast infection of the vagina or vulva) is the most common type of yeast infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.4 million Americans visit a doctor for a vaginal yeast infection every year. Although it’s rare, yeast infections can also affect the head of the penis.
Symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include burning, itching, and inflamed skin, with thick, white discharge with the consistency of cottage cheese. It may be painful to urinate or have sex if you are experiencing a genital yeast infection. Yeast infections in other parts of the body have similar symptoms.
Fungal infections are a common subject of conversation among DiabetesTeam members. One member shared, “High blood sugar levels have made me very sick and thin. I also contracted a very bad yeast infection.” Another explained that they “ended up at the emergency room with a yeast infection.”
Others have specified their unique symptoms. One member described a yeast infection in a fold of skin: “I try to keep skin folds clean and dry, but I keep getting a white discharge on my lower abdomen that smells and is weepy.”
Yeast infections are uncomfortable, painful, and can be frustrating to manage. If you experience frequent yeast infections while living with diabetes, you are not alone.
The human body is filled with healthy bacteria, like the bacteria that line the gut. Similarly, the human body contains healthy fungi. Yeast is a common form of fungus that lives in the mouth and digestive tract, on the skin, and in the vagina.
The type of yeast that can lead to a yeast infection is called Candida albicans. When conditions in the body are normal, candida does not cause any problems. Yeast infections result when something throws off this natural balance. Changes in hormones due to pregnancy or birth control, autoimmune diseases like HIV, and antibiotic medications are all common disruptions to the balance of yeast in the body — and common causes of yeast infections.
The risk of yeast infections is higher for those living with diabetes. Diabetes has been found to raise the risk of yeast infections by causing excess glucose (sugar) in the urine. Excess sugar in the urine can affect the natural yeast balance in the areas between the urethra and the vagina or the head of the penis. If there is an overgrowth of candida yeast, it can result in a yeast infection.
Members have discussed how their blood glucose levels directly correlate to their chances of developing yeast infections. One member said, “I am prone to yeast infections when my sugars run high.”
Research confirms that people with diabetes have an increased risk of oral and vaginal yeast infections compared to the general population. The higher your blood sugar and the less controlled your diabetes is, the higher your risk for yeast infections will be.
Diabetes can also increase your risk for other infections. This is due to a combination of factors, such as:
Controlling your diabetes by following your health care team’s treatment plan and lifestyle recommendations can also prevent infections like candidiasis.
Some diabetes treatments can also increase your risk of yeast infections. One member said, “I started a new medication this morning. After the shot, I had a strange yeast in my mouth.”
Three common diabetes medications that increase your risk for yeast infections are dapagliflozin (Farxiga), canagliflozin (Invokana), and empagliflozin (Jardiance). These drugs help control blood sugar levels by causing the body to release excess glucose through the urine, which could lead to a yeast infection. Talk to your doctor about how to prevent yeast infections when on these medications.
Another common class of medications that often leads to yeast infections, although not unique to people with diabetes, is antibiotics. Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria throughout the body. By destroying good bacteria that keep candida fungus in check, antibiotics can cause candida to overgrow and lead to infection. If you are taking antibiotics, ask your doctor how you can prevent yeast infections.
Just as there are tools to manage other diabetes symptoms, there are also steps you can take to treat and prevent yeast infections. If you have experienced any yeast infection symptoms, talk to your doctor to address a possible yeast infection as soon as you can.
Medical treatment options for simple yeast infections include short-course or single-dose antifungal medications. These can come as a cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository. They include fluconazole (Diflucan) and miconazole (Monistat), among others. Some of these medications are available over the counter, and others require a prescription.
Oral medication is not recommended for people who are pregnant. Medical treatments should clear up your yeast infection within days, but if your symptoms persist or reappear within two months, talk with your doctor.
For those who get severe, recurring yeast infections, doctors may prescribe long-term topical or oral therapy to be taken for months at a time. For extremely medication-resistant vaginal yeast infections, your doctor may prescribe a boric acid capsule to be inserted directly into your vagina. Swallowing a boric acid capsule can be life-threatening, so follow your doctor’s instructions before taking this yeast infection treatment.
DiabetesTeam members have discussed their strategies for resolving yeast infections. One said, “Eat low-carb yogurt. The active cultures help ward off yeast growth when your sugars are high or if you’re on antibiotics.” Another member recommended a home remedy to treat skin yeast infections: “If it’s on the leg or under the breast, apply apple cider vinegar on a cotton ball.”
Do not try any home remedies without first consulting your doctor, as these treatments may worsen symptoms. Note that no alternative medicine approaches have been proven to treat yeast infections.
Another DiabetesTeam member described their experience with a pharmaceutical approach: “A specialist gave me an ongoing, once-a-month prescription for yeast infections. You just have to get ahead of it. Take it at the first symptom.” If you have recurring yeast infections, ask a specialist whether a self-monitored medication approach may be appropriate for you.
If you have diabetes and have experienced yeast infections, you are not alone. Your doctor can help you understand the causes, find the best way to manage current infections, and prevent them from occurring again.
On DiabetesTeam, the social network for people with diabetes and their loved ones, more than 123,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with diabetes. Here, finding ways to manage the symptoms of diabetes is a commonly discussed topic.
Have you experienced a yeast infection since your diabetes diagnosis? Do you have any tips to deal with yeast infections? Share your experience and advice in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.