Thrush - including symptoms, treatment and prevention

Thrush is a very common vaginal infection, caused by an overgrowth of yeasts which normally live in the bowel and may be present in other parts of the body, such as the mouth, skin and vagina.

Thrush is caused by a yeast called Candida, most commonly Candida albicans. Other types of yeast are sometimes involved. Thrush can affect both women and men.

Vaginal thrush can be present with no symptoms. This can be quite normal and does not require treatment.

Sometimes overgrowth of Candida occurs, and symptoms develop. Also, some women may be more sensitive than others to the presence of Candida and can develop symptoms even when only small numbers of yeast are present.

Circumstances that encourage the overgrowth of Candida include:

  • hormonal changes (for example, during a menstrual period or pregnancy)
  • medication, especially antibiotics and steroids
  • medical conditions such as diabetes and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
  • immune suppression
  • some cancers and their treatment.

How thrush is spread

Thrush is not considered to be a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, Candida can sometimes be passed on during sex, and sexual activity can sometimes make thrush symptoms worse.

Signs and symptoms of thrush

Symptoms of vaginal thrush in women include:

  • vaginal itch, discomfort or irritation
  • vaginal discharge
  • redness and/or swelling of the vagina or vulva
  • stinging or burning when passing urine
  • pain during sex.

Other conditions, such as genital herpes or urinary tract infection may have similar symptoms, so it is important to have the diagnosis confirmed.

Diagnosis of thrush

Diagnosis of thrush is usually made following examination of the affected area by a doctor. Sometimes the doctor will take a swab to send to the laboratory for testing to confirm a diagnosis of thrush.

Incubation period

(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)

The yeasts which cause thrush may be present all the time. It is changes in the woman’s body which allow the condition to develop.

Infectious period

(time during which an infected person can infect others)

Person-to-person spread does not usually occur.

Treatment for thrush

Tablets, pessaries (dissolving tablets placed into the vagina) and cream purchased over-the-counter from your pharmacy often improve the condition. It is important to complete the full course of recommended treatment, even if you are having a period during this time.

Patients with frequently recurring thrush, or thrush that does not improve with simple treatment, should seek medical advice to make sure they do not have a medical condition such as diabetes. A longer course of treatment with oral tablets may be required.

Male sexual partners of women with thrush do not require treatment, except very occasionally when a woman has recurrent infections.

Men should apply the cream to their genital area, penis and under the foreskin, if uncircumcised.

There is no evidence that dietary changes or probiotics help prevent or treat thrush.

Prevention of thrush

To help prevent thrush:

  • wear loose pants or skirts, to promote air movement
  • wear cotton underwear, to reduce moist conditions that may encourage Candida growth
  • avoid using soaps or sprays in the genital area, as they can cause irritation
  • wash your hands before touching the vaginal area
  • wash your hands after going to the toilet
  • women should wipe themselves from front to back after going to the toilet
  • wash the genital area with water only and also gently wipe the area dry
  • don’t have vaginal sex straight after anal sex
  • wash thoroughly after anal sex and use a new condom and water-based lubricant before engaging in vaginal sex.

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