Vaginal thrush is a very common infection caused by an organism that normally lives on your skin, in your mouth and gut. It is called Candida albicans and is a type of yeast. Some women refer to it as a yeast infection

It is not a sexually transmitted infection and it can affect any woman, from childhood to old age, sexually active or not. Some women suffer an attack once or twice in their lives, whilst in some women it can be recurrent and can make life thoroughly miserable for a while. Some lucky women never get it at all!

The commonest symptoms are

  • Vaginal and vulval itching, often severe at night
  • Vaginal discharge, usually described as thick and ‘curdy’, but it can vary in appearance
  • Burning after sex
  • Pain on passing urine
  • Cracks or fissures on the skin around the vulval area
  • Swelling of the vaginal lips
Not everyone gets all these symptoms and attacks can vary in severity. Treatment for a single attack is simple. You can go to a chemist and get a vaginal tablet or cream, or you can get an oral treatment. These are relatively expensive, so if you are getting thrush frequently, or if you have any worries that you could have a sexually transmitted infection, it is a good idea to see the nurse. Swabs can then be taken from the area to confirm the diagnosis and you can be prescribed some treatment.

It makes good sense to see the nurse if you are getting repeated attacks anyway, as you may be suffering from a mixed infection, or you may have a silent infection in the cervix (chlamydia), which is making you more prone to thrush. This will need treating, as would your recent sexual partners.

Repeated attacks of thrush are probably due an altered immune status of the cells lining the walls of your vagina, making them more sensitive to certain triggers and then more liable to infection. Common triggers are:
  • Menstruation (your periods)
  • Perfumed soaps, bubble baths, vaginal deodorants which can alter the pH value of the vagina
  • Tight trousers, underwear made from synthetic material, lycra shorts. These make the area hot and sweaty; an ideal environment for the multiplication of the organisms.
  • Antibiotics
  • Being generally rundown or unwell
  • Wiping your bottom from back to front after opening your bowels, thus carrying the organisms normally carried in your gut to the vagina
If you are suffering frequent recurrent attacks, you may be given repeated vaginal treatments, to use even when you have no symptoms; twice a month, once around the time of your period and again mid-cycle. An oral treatment may also be recommended. It is usual for the problem to settle down in time, although it can be extremely irritating whilst it is happening. Sex might seem to trigger attacks and it can be very frustrating and damaging to your self-esteem. Try to be patient as things do get better eventually. It helps to try and avoid the triggers above.

It is not thought necessary to treat your sexual partner unless they have symptoms. Men can notice any combination of the following symptoms
  • An itchy, flaky rash under the foreskin or on the tip of the penis
  • Red patches under the foreskin or on the tip of the penis
  • A thick cheesy discharge under the foreskin
  • Difficulty in pulling back the foreskin
  • Slight discharge from the urethra
  • Pain on passing water
The contraceptive pill has not been shown to increase the incidence of thrush overall, but some women notice an increase in attacks while they are taking it. Think carefully about stopping the pill and make sure you have considered your contraceptive needs before making any decision.

Your local
genitourinary clinic is also a resource you can use if you are getting repeated attacks.

Further information

For more information on Infections

For more information on Women's Health

This article published on
12 December 2005

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