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Vaginal thrush: Causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Vaginal thrush is a yeast infection and is very common. Also known as candidiasis, yeast infections can develop in the warm, moist parts of your body such as the vagina, mouth and skin.

What causes a vaginal yeast infection?

Candida albicans yeast causes 80% to 90% of vaginal yeast infections. Normally, your body produces bacteria that keep candida in check. But when candida multiplies and exceeds the body's ability to control it, vaginal thrush can occur. This can happen if you become ill or come under a lot of stress.

The chance of a vaginal yeast infection is increased if you take antibiotics or use contraceptive pills containing oestrogen. Using contraceptive diaphragms, coils and sponges can also possibly increase the chances. Women who are pregnant, have diabetes or are immunosuppressed are at higher risk of vaginal thrush. It is not a sexually transmitted infection.

Vaginal thrush symptoms

Vaginal thrush is a yeast infection. Common symptoms include pain, itching and vaginal discharge.

With vaginal thrush women may experience pain when urinating or during sexual intercourse. You may also suffer from vulval itching and irritation. A thick white or watery vaginal discharge is also common.

If you think you have vaginal thrush and the symptoms do not resolve themselves with treatment, seek medical advice.

How is vaginal thrush diagnosed?

Your doctor may diagnose you with vaginal thrush based on the description of your symptoms and possibly a vaginal examination. Vaginal thrush is a yeast infection. During the examination, your doctor may take a vaginal swab to look for the yeast under a microscope. This helps confirm that you have a vaginal yeast infection.

What is the treatment for vaginal thrush?

If you have had vaginal thrush before and are confident that is what you have again, you can treat it with an over-the-counter topical cream or pessary that dissolves in the vagina. An oral anti-fungal treatment is also available over-the-counter.

If over-the-counter treatments are not proving effective, your doctor may recommend an alternative anti-fungal treatment.

Vaginal thrush can be more complicated for certain groups of women. If you think you have vaginal thrush and fall into one of the categories below, then you should seek medical advice and not try to treat yourself.

  • Women with diabetes
  • Pregnant women
  • Women with weakened immune systems
  • Women who suffer from four or more vaginal yeast infections a year.

Vaginal thrush prevention

The following may help prevent vaginal thrush:

  • Wear cotton or silk underwear, which allows excess moisture to evaporate, unlike nylon and other synthetics.
  • Wash and dry your underwear thoroughly and change it often to prevent dampness which can increase the chance of vaginal thrush.
  • Avoid using feminine deodorant sprays and other products as these may increase the chance of a vaginal yeast infection.
  • Be aware that using sanitary towels may increase your chances of getting vaginal thrush.

Some women report eating yoghurt that contains active cultures helps to prevent thrush.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 27, 2016

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