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Candidiasis (thrush) - Causes of vaginal thrush

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Vaginal thrush is a yeast infection that is usually caused by a type of fungus that lives naturally in the vagina.

Most cases of thrush (80-90%) are caused by Candida albicans. The rest are due to other types of Candida fungi.

Up to half of women have Candida living naturally in their vagina without it causing any symptoms.

It's thought that there has to be a change in the natural balance of the vagina that leads to an explosion in the growth of Candida and causes the symptoms of thrush.

This change can be a chemical change, such as when you take antibiotics, or it can be a hormonal change, for instance, during pregnancy.

What increases your chances of thrush?

Your risk of developing thrush increases if you:

  • take antibiotics
  • are pregnant
  • have diabetes
  • have a weakened immune system

Antibiotics

Thrush happens in about a third of women who take antibiotics because antibiotics get rid of the friendly bacteria in the vagina.

Any type of antibiotic can increase your chances of developing thrush. But for you to develop the yeast infection, the Candida fungus must already be present in your vagina.

Pregnancy

If you're pregnant, changes in the levels of female hormones, such as oestrogen, increase your chances of developing thrush and make it more likely to keep coming back.

Diabetes

Diabetes is a long-term condition that's caused by too much glucose in the blood. It's usually kept under control by having regular insulin injections and maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.

If you have poorly controlled diabetes - that is, your blood glucose levels go up and down rather than staying stable, you are more likely to develop thrush.

Weakened immune system

Your risk of developing thrush is also increased if your immune system is weakened - for example, when you have an immunosuppressive condition, such as HIV or AIDS, or if you are having chemotherapy.

This is because in these circumstances your immune system, which usually fights off infection, is unable to control the spread of the Candida fungus.

Read about how thrush is diagnosed.

Medical Review: February 17, 2012
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