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What is thrush?

Several different organisms can cause vaginal discharge and irritation (vaginitis). The most common organisms being :-

Thrush is the term used for a common infection caused by a yeast like fungus called candida albicans. Thrush is also known as candidiasis or moniliasis.

Vaginal thrush is a very common infection that affects women of all ages and most women will get thrush at least once during their lives.

What causes thrush?

Thrush is caused by a yeast, that likes warm and moist conditions and normally lives harmlessly on the skin, in the mouth, gut and vagina. The yeast is usually kept under control by harmless bacteria and the body’s immune system. However, these conditions can sometimes change allowing the yeast to overgrow, causing the typical symptoms of thrush.

Thrush is particularly common as a result of hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy or in women under the age of 20.

Other reasons why the yeast may grow, causing thrush to develop, include:

  • If you suffer from diabetes and your blood sugar levels are poorly controlled.
  • If you are ill, run down or short of sleep.
  • Taking the contraceptive pill.
  • Taking certain antibiotics may cause infection as they kill the normal bacteria in the vagina, allowing the yeast to multiply and cause infection.
  • Having sex with someone who has a thrush infection.

Thrush can also cause nappy rash in babies and mouth infections in the elderly.

What are the symptoms of thrush?

Even though thrush is usually associated with women, men can also get thrush. Thrush is more likely to develop in men who have not been  circumcised. Men should get used to washing under their foreskin as part of their daily routine.

Symptoms in women include: –

  • Itching and soreness around the vagina, vulva or anus causing redness and inflammation.
  • A thick, white discharge from the vagina, which looks like cottage cheese and smells yeasty.
  • Pain during sex.
  • Pain when passing urine.

Symptoms in men include: –

  • Irritation, burning or itching under the foreskin or on the tip of the penis.
  • Red patches at the tip of the penis or under the foreskin.
  • Difficulty in pulling back the foreskin.
  • Discomfort when passing urine.
  • A thick discharge under the foreskin.

How is thrush diagnosed?

If you go to your doctor he/she may examine your genital area, a diagnosis can usually made by examining the affected area. A sample may be taken using a cotton wool swab (similar to a cotton bud). You may also be asked to give a urine sample.

We have a simple test on this website which can be used to indicate whether an abnormal vaginal discharge is caused by bacterial, parasitic infections or yeast infection(thrush). For more information on this test or to buy click here.

How is thrush treated?

Thrush is cured easily by antifungal treatments that stop the growth of the yeast. These treatments are available ‘over the counter’ from pharmacies as creams and pessaries (a tablet that is inserted into the vagina, similar to the way you would insert a tampon) and are available without prescription. It is usually recommended to use both the cream and pessary as the cream can help soothe the irritation immediately.

There are also tablets available for thrush, that can be taken by mouth.

When should I go to the doctor?

Once you have had thrush you will then recognise it if you get it again. However, if you have an itch and a discharge that you have not had before, you should visit your doctor or local G.U.M. clinic. You should also visit your doctor if :

  • You have not had thrush before.
  • You are pregnant or think you might be.
  • You have had more than 2 attacks of thrush in the last 6 months.
  • You have any abnormal vaginal bleeding.
  • You are under the age of 16 or over 60.
  • You have abdominal (stomach) pain.
  • You have any blisters or sores in the genital area.
  • There is no improvement after 7 days of treatment.

How can I avoid another attack of thrush?

Some people are more prone to thrush than others and there is no simple way to avoid it, however there are some measures, which may help prevent a further infection, these are as follows :

  • Avoid wearing tight or synthetic clothing.
  • Wear cotton underwear as an alternative to nylon and mixed fibres.
  • Wear stockings instead of tights and skirts instead of trousers.
  • During your period use pads instead of tampons.
  • Wash outside the vagina carefully every day and try to avoid perfumed soaps. There are a number of soap free and specially formulated shower gels ideal for cleaning the vagina.
  • Avoid unnecessary antibiotics.
  • When going to the toilet always wipe from front to back.

Thrush isn’t a sexually transmitted disease, but it may sometimes be passed on during sex so try to avoid sex during an infection. It may also be a good idea for your partner to be treated as well.

The symptoms of thrush may go away without treatment but it can get very sore, complications are very rare.

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