Yeast infections are so common-75 percent of women will experience at least one in her lifetime-that you might tend to get a little know-it-all when it comes to your lady parts. Sure, some yeast infection symptoms are pretty obvious (a thick, cottage cheese-like discharge, intense vaginal itching), but they don’t necessarily mean you should head straight for the obvious yeast infection treatment (like Monistat).
“The most important thing that you have to keep in mind is that yeast infections are the most commonly misdiagnosed infection,” says Dr. Lauren Streicher, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “In fact, many women assume that they have a yeast infection so they go to buy whatever over-the-counter product, but then they continue to have symptoms because it was never yeast in the first place.” About half of the women who treat themselves for a yeast infection actually have some other condition, says Dr. Barb DePree, of Lakeshore Health Partners in Holland, MI.
If you think you have a yeast infection, there are a few steps you should take before self-treating. That holds true for the 5 to 8 percent of women who experience recurrent or chronic yeast infections, meaning they get them at least three times a year. Follow these steps to make sure you’re correctly diagnosing and treating your vaginal issues-the first time.
1. Know the symptoms
Yeast is fungus-one that naturally occurs in the vagina. “The infection happens when there is a proliferation of this fungus, usually candida, which causes an inflammation of the vaginal tissues and discharge,” says Dr. Streicher. That can lead to itchy, irritated skin and pain during sex and urination. “But these symptoms can be seen in other vulvovaginal conditions as well,” says Dr. DePree. “Many times, it’s actually bacterial vaginosis, which is caused by an imbalance in vaginal bacteria levels.” If it doesn’t itch, it’s probably not a yeast infection-but rushing to self-diagnose could mean you miss other important clues as to what’s going on.
Read: Do You Bleed After Sex?