Vaginal thrush, or something else?
It is estimated that about 75% of women get vaginal thrush at some point in their life. Vaginal thrush is a yeast infection. It is accompanied by vaginal itching, burning and discharge. While thrush is common and uncomfortable, it is rarely serious. Identifying and treating an uncomplicated yeast infection early on relieves the vaginal itching and burning within a few days. However, vaginal and vulvar irritation can last for up to two weeks.
Vaginal thrush: too much candida
Several kinds of bacteria and other organisms live in the vagina, including a of yeast called candida. Candida albicans normally lives on the surface of your skin, in your digestive tract, and in the vagina. It lives in a healthy balance with other organisms but if you get a yeast overgrowth this can cause an infection. Candida albicans is responsible for most vulvovaginal yeast infections.
Yeast infections occur most often in the moist, warm parts of your body, such as in the vagina, mouth, under the arms or breasts. Some 'friendly' bacteria in the body, such as lactobacillus acidophilus which can be found in some yoghurt, help keep yeast and other types of fungus in check. The normally acidic environment of the vagina also helps prevent candida yeast from overgrowing. But when the acidity, or pH balance, changes, you can get a yeast overgrowth and infection.
A yeast infection is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but it is more likely to develop after having sex. Up to 15% of male partners of women with vaginal thrush will develop itching, a mild rash on the end of the penis or other symptoms.
What other conditions can mimic a yeast infection?
Yeast infection symptoms, such as vaginal itching, burning and occasional vaginal discharge, can also be caused by STIs and other vaginal infections. That is why doctors recommend, particularly to first-time sufferers, a visit to the clinic to make sure your symptoms are not caused by something more serious. A doctor can diagnose vaginal thrush by taking a few cells from your vagina with a swab and looking at them under a microscope.
Other causes of vaginal itching, burning, and discharge which are not vaginal thrush include:
- Bacterial vaginosis. This infection is caused by an overgrowth of various bacteria which live in the vagina. The classic signs are vaginal discharge with a strong, fishy-smelling odour and pain while urinating.
- Trichomoniasis. This infection is caused by a parasite. It is usually spread through sex. Along with vaginal itching, burning and an unpleasant-smelling green frothy discharge, common symptoms include redness and swelling of the labia. You may also suffer pain when urinating.
- STIs. Several STIs such as herpes and gonorrhoea, can mimic symptoms of vaginal thrush. These STIs also can cause painful sexual intercourse, redness or swelling of the labia.
- Infection in the cervix. An infection in the cervix can trigger the symptoms of burning or discharge during urination or sexual intercourse.
- Threadworms. These parasites can cause a vaginal infection, especially in young girls.
- A tampon or coil. An old tampon or birth control device like a coil left in the vagina too long can cause burning, discharge or irritation.
All of these conditions need prompt medical attention so that they can be diagnosed and treated.