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Yeast Infection, Menopause and Hormone Therapy
Women who undergo menopause or take hormones for some reason are always more prone to yeast infections than those who do not.
However, it's not necessary to shrug one's shoulders and accept it as part of the burden of being female.
Being a woman is not a curse, and yeast infections are not a part of a normal, healthy life.
If you want to defeat menopause or hormone-related yeast infections, knowing the causes, symptoms and treatments is the first step.
Causes of yeast infection / candida / thrush in menopausal women
Menopause is the process of ovarian shutdown.
It usually occurs somewhere between the ages of 35 and 58, though of course it gets more likely as time goes on. There aren't too many women who experience menopause at age 36, after all.
At any rate, under normal circumstances the body's hormones go way down during menopause, often causing nerves, anxiety, hot flashes, chills, fatigue, apathy, mental depression, insomnia, dizziness, numbness, nerve tingling, muscle aches, urinary incontinence, gastrointestinal disorders and, last but not least, heart palpitations.
Menopause is not a particularly fun experience for anyone.
When ovums stop being produced every month, which is basically what menopause is all about, the estrogen and progesterone hormones that control the menstrual cycle also don't get produced. The long term effects of this lack of female hormones are fun things like osteoporosis, where calcium starts leaving the bones, and atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.
However, menopause doesn't really directly contribute to yeast infections. A lack of vaginal lubrication during sex and the general physical stress of menopause may open up the bodily armor to yeast infections, but these are generally lesser problems and both easily dealt with.
However, the other effects of menopause are so miserable that many women want hormone replacement therapy.
This is usually provided as ethinyl estradiol, conjugated estrogens, estrone, equilin or a synthetic such as diethylstilbestrol.
Each of these has its own side effects, and women who take them should particularly watch out for changes that indicate a higher likelihood of cancer in the breasts or in the endometrium, also known as the lining of the uterus.
These hormones are also what really make yeast infections much more likely.
This is directly related to why some women are prone to yeast infections during ovulation or their menstrual cycles, because female hormones change the way the vaginal canal itself works.
During a normal full menstrual cycle, the female body undergoes a lot of changes in the course of a single month. At first, an egg follicle develops towards maturity on the surface of the ovary. During this stage, that follicle is stimulating a lot of estrogens to go into the bloodstream. This makes the lining of the uterus thicken to get ready for embryo implantation. The glands controlling vaginal and uterine secretions also elongate.
After about fourteen days, more or less, the ovum breaks free of the ovary and starts down the fallopian tube towards the uterus. At this point, the place where the ovum grew on the ovary, called the corpus luteum, changes from producing estrogen to producing progesterone. When this happens, the uterine lining becomes a lot thicker quite quickly, the secretion glands get even bigger and produce lots of lubricating stuff that contains glycogen. Glycogen is a form of simple sugar, the kind of sugar that Candida can feed on the easiest. This glycogen production will become more and more pronounced as the ovum progresses through the fallopian tubes and down to the uterus.
If the ovum is not fertilized and the woman doesn't become pregnant, eventually the progesterone levels get high enough to trigger menstruation and start to drop again. Menstrual blood isn't pure blood, of course. It also contains much of the uterine lining and a lot of fluid that was meant to help implant and sustain the embryo in the very first part of pregnancy. Of course, newly implanted embryos get energy the same way any human does, through sugar. So, glycogen makes up a lot of the menstrual fluid as well.
Because of this cycle of increasing levels of glycogen in and around the vaginal canal, Candida often finds a perfect environment in which to grow during female ovulation and menstruation.
While this tendency would normally go down with menopause, taking artificially high levels of hormone replacement therapy can really mess with the female body's rhythm.
Instead of going through this once per month, the levels of glycogen can remain artificially at a consistent high due to hormone replacement therapy instead of going way up and then plunging way down as in a normal female body rhythm.
It's due to this constant source of food that menopausal women who are taking hormone therapy or women who are on birth control, which produces the same effects, are more prone to yeast infections.
Men who are on male hormone replacement therapy will not suffer any of these problems.
Number one, men who are on hormone replacement therapy are taking testosterone, not estrogen.
While an overdose of testosterone will stimulate estrogen production in men, men don't have the glands that make glycogen rich secretions in the first place.
All that will happen with a testosterone overdose in males is the development of secondary female sexual characteristics such as breasts.
Considering that men are made to have a relatively steady dose of testosterone in their blood, this isn't a problem as long as that hormone therapy is monitored by a doctor and is for a valid reason.
Menopausal Yeast infections are contagious just like other yeast infections
Of course, a yeast infection caused by menopause, hormone therapy or birth control is just as contagious as any yeast infection. It's still caused by Candida yeasts going into a multicellular invasive reproductive form, and it will happily invade anything vulnerable it comes into contact with.
Symptoms of yeast infection in menopausal women
A hormone therapy induced yeast infection has pretty much the same symptoms as any other genital yeast infection.
Women will suffer from redness, inflammation, itching, burning, pain during urination or sex and possibly a white, curd like discharge.
However, because menopause can dry out the vaginal tissues, it's doubly important to make sure that any given inflammatory problem in the vulvovaginal area is actually due to a yeast infection instead of something else.
Simple irritation due to dryness can also produce redness, inflammation, itching and burning, and an antifungal medication won't do a thing in the world for it.
In addition, the bacteria that normally live within the vagina can also get out of hand at this time, considering that a woman's body is in such a state of flux during menopause. Again, antifungal medication won't touch a bacterial infection, and it may even make the bacterial infection worse as it decreases the bacteria's natural competition.
The upshot is to get a doctor's diagnosis if there is a shred of doubt as to what's causing the problem.
The white, curd like discharge and a yeasty smell are pretty good indicators, especially if you've suffered from yeast infections before and know what you're looking at.
However, if the yeasty smell isn't there, if the discharge isn't there, or if the discharge is strange colors or smells particularly bad, go see a doctor.
Virulent yellowish or greenish discharge with a horrific smell is usually indicative of a nasty bacterial infection, which requires antibiotics.
Of course, the rounds of antibiotics and antifungals and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories along with menopausal changes can serve to put a woman on a merry-go-round of genital health problems.
You take an antibiotic for a vaginal yeast infection, and Candida takes the opportunity to move in.
You take an antifungal for the Candida and the bacteria moves back in.
All in all it's a terrible cycle, so the emphasis should be on getting the body back in balance instead of constantly throwing it out of whack one way or the other.
If a woman has a compromised immune system from disease, medication or sheer exhaustion, Candida may take the opportunity to spread into the bloodstream and throughout the body. If you should start getting the symptoms of a systemic infection, such as severe fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle aches while suffering from an active yeast infection, get to an emergency room in double quick time. Your yeast infection may be going systemic, in which case a mild health problem just transformed into a life-threatening disease.
Treatments and Prevention of yeast infection in menopausal women
Of course, if you're on hormone replacement therapy for menopause, it may be difficult to find an alternative that will not encourage yeast infection to grow.
If you're on birth control and you keep getting yeast infections, you may be able to find another method of birth control that doesn't change the hormonal levels in the body.
Menopausal women, on the other hand, probably don't want to deal with the artery hardening and bone weakening that a lack of estrogen will usually produce, so they have to replace the estrogen through medications.
Until medical technology gets good enough to simulate the full range of a woman's menstrual cycle, we're kind of stuck with it, and the resulting problem with yeast infections.
Therefore, women who must take hormone replacements should use the full range of treatment and especially prevention in order to address the problem of yeast infections.
Get a good, well balanced diet, cut back on starches, sugars and alcohols, and get enough sleep and exercise.
Get paranoid about your hygiene and don't share clothing, linens or personal items with other people.
Use antibiotics, corticosteroids and NSAIDs like ibuprofen only when necessary.
You may want to look into the full range of medications and home treatments in order to deal with the problem successfully.
Conclusion on Yeast Infection in Menopausal Women
While it seems that much of medicine is a tradeoff of one health problem for another, most women who take hormone therapy can defeat recurrent yeast infections.
With time, patience, education and the gradual elimination of various causes, no one should have to put up with the miserable symptoms, social problems and continual anxiety that yeast infections create.
References used for Yeast Infection, Menopause and Hormone Therapy
Taber's Medical Encyclopedia
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Good luck from: Loni (Researcher and writer ) Donald (Editor and web master).
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