Thrush- what causes it and how is it treated?
What is thrush?
- Thrush is caused by a yeast known as “candida albicans”, which lives naturally in parts of the body including the vagina and bowels. Although candida usually causes no problems, sometimes the balance of normal bacteria and fungi gets disturbed and it overgrows, leading to symptoms.
- The vulva and vagina are the most commonly involved areas in women
- It’s also possible to get thrush in other places such as the mouth, oesophagus and skin (including nappy rash in babies and nipples in breast-feeding mums)
How do you get thrush?
Sometimes thrush happens for no particular reason, however the following things can trigger it:
- Antibiotics (because they disturb the natural balance of bacteria in the body)
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy or around the time of a woman’s period
- Diabetes (high blood sugar helps candida to grow)
- An underactive immune system
Can you get thrush from sex?
Usually not. Whilst it may occasionally get passed between partners, most often it is an overgrowth of candida in your own body.
What are the symptoms of thrush?
Thrush can happen in various parts of the body, but in women, the vagina and vulva are the most common locations. Symptoms of thrush include
- Itch in the vulva/vagina
- Redness and irritation of the vulva
- A thick white vaginal discharge discharge
- A burning sensation when passing urine
When should you see a doctor?
Women will usually recognise the symptoms of thrush if they’ve had it before, and may feel comfortable treating it themselves with over-the-counter thrush treatment, including creams, pessaries or tablets, however, it’s very important to see a doctor if the symptoms don’t get better after a few days of treatment.
Some sexually transmitted infections have the same symptoms as thrush, so it’s wise to see a doctor if you’ve been sexually active and develop any of the symptoms mentioned above, particularly if
- it’s the first time you’ve had these symptoms
- you’ve had a new sexual partner recently
- you also have abnormal vaginal bleeding
- there is foul-smelling or discoloured vaginal discharge
- you have pelvic pain or are unwell with fevers, chills or sweats
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and you develop symptoms of thrush, you should speak to a doctor about appropriate diagnosis & treatment.
What are the tests for thrush?
- A doctor will usually recognise the symptoms of thrush and the typical appearance on examination.
- They may perform a vaginal examination and take a swab from the vulva and/or vagina (the results of the swabs will take a few days to come back).
- They may also check for a UTI or sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, which can have similar symptoms.
What is the treatment for thrush?
Treatment for thrush may include the following options, all of which are available without prescription.
- Topical antifungal creams such as Clotrimazole (Canesten) and Miconazole (Daktarin) often work well. They need to be applied regularly for days or sometimes weeks.
- Creams containing an antifungal and a low strength steroid (e.g. 1% hydrocortisone) may help to reduce the inflammation more quickly, though they’re for external use only.
- Vaginal pessaries- these are intravaginal antifungal preparations that must be inserted into the vagina for a few days
- Oral antifungal treatment for thrush- such as Fluconazole (Diflucan) tablets is often taken as a single dose will be effective in clearing symptoms of thrush.
The choice of treatment for thrush depends on the woman’s preference, convenience and the cost of the medication. Some women find a certain type of thrush treatment works better for them than another, while others may prefer to use more than one type of treatment at the same time (e.g. an oral tablet as well as a pessary). Women who repeatedly get symptoms of thrush around the time of their period may need to take monthly treatment for thrush.
If you have concerns about the symptoms of thrush or how to treat thrush effectively, speak to your doctor.