Good news: It doesn’t always require a visit to your ob/gyn.

By Ashley Mateo
April 23, 2009
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While yeast infection symptoms can seem pretty obvious-severe itching, cottage cheese-like discharge-women are actually pretty bad at self-diagnosing the condition. Despite the fact that three out of four women will experience at least one yeast infection in her lifetime, only 17 percent could correctly ID whether they had one or not, according to research done at St. Louis University.

"Some women automatically assume that if they have vaginal itching or abnormal discharge, then it must be a yeast infection," says Kim Gaten, a family nurse practitioner at an ob/gyn clinic in Memphis, TN. "Many times they will come in after self treating, still complaining of symptoms, [because] they actually have another type of infection, such as bacterial vaginosis, an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina, or trichomoniasis, a common sexually transmitted disease." (That Said, Here Are 5 Yeast Infection Symptoms Every Woman Should Know About.)

So while knowing the symptoms-which can also include swollen or irritated skin, pain during urination, and pain during sex-is important, a yeast infection test is equally critical. "Patients should always test for a yeast infection versus going straight to yeast infection meds simply because the symptoms they are having could possibly be another type of infection," says Gaten. If you head straight for what you think is the cure, you could end up ignoring the real issue-and dealing with the symptoms for even longer.

How Do Doctors Test for a Yeast Infection?

If you think you have a yeast infection, most ob/gyns would recommend you touch base with your doctor, whether over the phone or in person. Talking to them can confirm clear-cut symptoms, and if you're unsure whether yours is actually a yeast infection, an in-person appointment can clear up any confusion.

Once you're there, the doctor will get your medical history, then perform a physical exam to see what type of discharge you have and collect a vaginal culture for testing, says Gaten. They'll look at it under a microscope to see if cells are present and-voila-be able to give you a definitive answer.

This yeast infection test is key because, even though many believe there's a urine test for a yeast infection, Gaten says no such thing exists. "A urinalysis can tell us if the patient has bacteria in their urine, but it does not specifically diagnose yeast infections," she explains. (PS: This Is Your Step-By-Step Guide to Curing a Yeast Infection.)

How to Test for a Yeast Infection at Home

If you really don't have time for a visit to your ob/gyn (or you just want to start addressing those symptoms ASAP), an at-home yeast infection test is another option. "There are several over-the-counter yeast infection tests that you can buy to test for yeast infections at home," says Gaten.

Popular OTC yeast infection tests include the Monistat Complete Care Vaginal Health Test, as well as drugstore brands that you can pick up in places like CVS or Walmart. A yeast infection test kit can diagnose other bacterial conditions, too, just in case yeast isn't the ultimate culprit.

The best part, though, is that these tests are extremely user-friendly, says Gaten. "The patient performs a vaginal swab, and the test measures the vaginal acidity. With most tests, they will turn a certain color if the acidity is abnormal." If your acidity is normal, you can rule out issues like bacterial vaginosis, and move on to yeast infection treatments. (Though These Are the At-Home Remedies That You Should Never Try.)

Plus, Gaten says that most at-home yeast infection tests are accurate in comparison to in-office testing. They're also safe to use, so long as you carefully follow the directions listed on the label.

That said, if you try an at-home yeast infection test and treatment, but your symptoms persist or worsen, Gaten says it's important to schedule that visit with your ob/gyn. After all, nobody wants to deal with vaginal problems any longer than necessary.