If you have diabetes, you probably know that it puts you at risk for other health conditions like kidney problems, vision issues and slow healing cuts and scrapes.
Yet, you may be unaware that people with diabetes are more likely to experience yeast infections (also known as candidiasis). That’s because yeast, especially the Candida species, thrives in a high-sugar environment. So if you have high blood sugar levels, you’re at higher risk.
“Yeast is part of the normal microbial flora of our skin and gut, and it helps protect us from dangerous pathogens. But when the balance is thrown off, issues can arise and overgrowth can lead to infection,” said Jordan Wagner, a diabetes educator with Banner - University Medicine. “Yeast feeds on sugar, so higher blood sugar levels come with a higher likelihood of experiencing yeast overgrowth.”
High blood sugar levels caused by diabetes can also weaken your immune system. That can make it harder for you to fight off all kinds of illnesses, including yeast infections.
Also, some medications that treat diabetes (such as Farxiga (dapagliflozin), Invokana (canagliflozin), Jardiance (empagliflozin) and Steglatro (ertugliflozin)) can make it easier for you to have yeast infections.
Yeast infections happen in many areas of the body
Yeast like to live in moist areas of the body. Yeast infections can happen in the mouth (called thrush), skin folds, armpits, behind the knees, in the nail beds, in breaks in the skin and under the breasts. With these types of yeast infections, you’ll generally have redness, swelling and itching.
Women with diabetes may also develop vaginal yeast infections. That’s because higher-than-normal blood sugar levels can change the pH of the vagina, making it easier for yeast to grow.
With a vaginal yeast infection, you might notice itching, burning, redness and white or clumpy discharge. You may also have pain when you’re urinating or having sex.
How you can prevent yeast infections
The number one thing you can do to keep yeast infections away is control your blood sugar.
“Controlling blood sugars is the best way to prevent infection and long-term complications. I cannot emphasize this enough. If blood sugars are routinely out of target range, issues are so much more likely to come up,” said Wagner.
You can also take these steps:
- Stick to a healthy nutrition plan and check your blood sugar regularly.
- Keep areas of your body prone to yeast infections clean and dry, especially during hot weather or when you exercise.
- Choose breathable, cotton or natural-fiber underwear and clothing. “Natural fibers absorb moisture, so they help keep your skin dry,” Wagner said. Avoid tight, synthetic clothing since it can trap moisture and create an environment where yeast likes to grow.
- Use gentle soaps and avoid douching or using harsh feminine hygiene products. They can disrupt the natural pH balance in your vagina.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day to help keep your mouth healthy.
- Eat foods that contain probiotics, such as yogurt, pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha, and talk to your health care provider about taking probiotic supplements. The “good bacteria” in probiotics can help keep your gut, skin and vagina healthy.
Treatment options for yeast infections
Despite your best efforts, yeast infections may still happen from time to time. You can treat a yeast infection with over-the-counter (OTC) medication, such as Lotrimin AF (clotrimazole), Monistat (miconazole), Vagistat-1 (tioconazole) or Femstat (butoconazole).
Although you can usually manage a yeast infection on your own, you’ll want to contact your health care provider promptly if you:
- Have uncontrolled diabetes
- Are pregnant (to avoid passing the infection to your baby)
- Aren’t having success with OTC home treatment
- Are concerned that you might have a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
- Have severe pain
- Have discharge
- Are concerned and want a professional opinion
Your provider may take a swab of the affected area to make sure it’s a yeast infection. Depending on the location of the yeast infection, your provider may recommend prescription antifungal creams, pills such as Diflucan (fluconazole) or suppositories to help clear up these infections. In some cases, you might need IV medication.
If you’re being treated for a yeast infection, ask your doctor about taking a probiotic. “Yeast is normally a part of your body’s healthy microbial flora, and treatment can disrupt it. A probiotic may help balance your natural flora while you’re using an antifungal treatment,” Wagner said.
It might feel embarrassing to talk about yeast infections, but it’s very important to talk about any concerns or symptoms you have with your health care provider so you can get the best help and treatment you need.
The bottom line
If you have diabetes, you are at higher risk for yeast infections. Yeast thrives on sugar, so having a healthy lifestyle and controlling your blood sugar can lower your risk of these infections.
If you think you have symptoms of a yeast infection, or you would like to learn more about ways to control your blood sugar, reach out to a Banner health care provider near you.