Can Stress Give You a Yeast Infection?

Stress does not cause yeast infections but can increase your risk of getting one.

Vaginal yeast infections are a common condition caused by an overgrowth of yeast in your body. Yeast naturally grows on your skin and in your mouth, intestines, and vagina, but this yeast can grow to harmful amounts based on your lifestyle habits and immune system.

Since stress can affect your immune system, you may be wondering whether it is the cause of your yeast infections. However, "stress is always a factor, but we don't really have any great controlled clinical studies that prove that stress in and of itself can cause a yeast infection," according to Donnica Moore, MD, an ob-gyn and president of Sapphire Women's Health Group in New Jersey.

Stress Increases Your Risk of Yeast Infections

Just like bacteria, yeast is normally present in the vagina and the surrounding skin. However, infections only occur when something throws off the ratio of bacteria to yeast. Antibiotics, hormonal birth control, and poor vaginal hygiene all can upset this balance, Dr. Moore said. Changes in estrogen levels during pregnancy and breastfeeding can also make you more susceptible to yeast infections.

There is no evidence that being stressed out can cause yeast to grow out of control and land you an infection. There is only evidence that stress can make you more susceptible to infections. According to a 2015 Annual Review of Microbiology article, stress can affect the immune system and allow the yeast that causes yeast infections to grow uncontrolled. However, one of the above factors must trigger the yeast infection first⁠—stress may only be a contributing factor that makes the infection more stubborn and more likely to recur, Dr. Moore said.

The stress-yeast connection depends on cortisol, a hormone released when you are stressed. "What we do know is that prolonged stress causes your cortisol level to go up, which causes your blood sugar to go up, and yeast loves sugar," Dr. Moore explained. The yeast in your vagina thrives on this sugar and can grow quickly, resulting in an infection. "So yes, chronic stress can lead to chronic yeast infections, but there are many, many other factors," Dr. Moore said.

Testing the Causes of Repeat Yeast Infections

Stress is just one of many factors that can cause you to have repeat yeast infections. Healthcare providers can run several tests to check for these causes, according to Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School. Dr. Minkin said that she first tests her patient's blood to rule out diabetes; she also tests for HIV, which can weaken the immune system and make people more susceptible to a yeast infection. If those are negative, she checks cortisol levels to see whether stress may be involved.

"If you have an environment where you're getting a higher sugar [level], it is possible that you might end up with a higher chance for getting a yeast infection," Dr. Minkin told Health. If you keep getting repeat yeast infections or have had a stubborn infection that is resistant to treatment, high blood sugar brought on by high cortisol could be a cause.

How To Treat Yeast Infections

First, check whether you have a yeast infection. If you are not completely sure whether you are experiencing a yeast infection, see a healthcare provider for testing and treatment recommendations. Treatment for yeast infections can include an over-the-counter cream or a prescription anti-yeast pill.

Then, take steps to de-stress. Some de-stressing techniques include working out more often, trying a meditation app, reducing your work or life responsibilities, or seeking therapy. Dr. Minkin also recommended eliminating sugar from your diet. "I always tell people, if you want to try to prevent yeast infection, piss off the yeast and don't give them what they like. Make them mad, don't give them sugar."

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