From the symptoms to what causes it and how to treat, we spoke to a gynaecologist to answer the most frequent questions on vaginal thrush to help give women the confidence to speak about it more…
We need to talk about thrush.
It affects around 75% of women at least once in their lifetime - 138 million women worldwide according to recent research from the University of Manchester, with the number of those experiencing recurring thrush set to increase to 158 million by 2030.
Yet still many of us are too embarrassed to speak to a professional or anyone else about it, considering it a shameful reflection on ourselves rather than an extremely common and treatable medical condition.
To help navigate the issue, we spoke to Saurabh Phadnis*, consultant gynaecologist and gynaecological oncologist at London Gynaecology to find the answers to the most Googled questions about thrush so that women can feel more confident seeking help…
How do you get thrush?
“Thrush is a very common vaginal infection, caused by an overgrowth of yeasts which live normally in the bowel and may be present in other parts of the body, such as the mouth, skin and vagina. The most common cause of thrush is Candida albicans (yeast like fungus),” says Phadnis.
“It occurs when the good bacteria in the vagina can’t keep the fungus (Candida albicans) under control, creating a suitable environment for the overgrowth of this fungus.
Thrush is more likely to occur whilst on oral contraceptive pill or antibiotics, as a side effect of stress or due to uncontrolled diabetes or if you are pregnant as pregnant women may be more prone to thrush**.
Recurrent thrush is when four or more episodes of thrush occur in a year.
There are many factors which may predispose women to recurrent thrush such as when the initial treatment is not successful in completely clearing the thrush, during pregnancy, poorly controlled diabetes and repeated causes of irritation to the genitalia like using perfumed soaps or washes.”
How do you relieve thrush?
According to Phadnis, thrush can be easily treated by taking an oral Fluconazole, 150mg tablet which can be obtained over the counter without a prescription.
“A cream can also be obtained over the counter which will also help relieve the symptoms,” he adds.
What does thrush look like?
“Thrush causes symptoms of itching and irritation with a thick whitish curd-like discharge,” explains Phadnis.
“Swollen vaginal lips (labia) is often caused by severe thrush infection or sometimes allergic reaction to sanitary products or even fabric softener.
If there is itching and discharge, it is more likely to be thrush. If there is more redness, it may be an allergic reaction. It is best to see your doctor for an assessment and advice.”
How long does thrush last?
“The period for which thrush may last varies and depends on factors such as the severity of the condition and treatment used.
Most mild thrush should subside within a week of commencing appropriate treatment but it depends on whether the balance of normal flora is restored in the vagina or not.”
Is thrush contagious?
“Although thrush is not classified as a sexually transmitted infection (and yes, you can have sexual intercourse even if you have thrush but it may be painful and can cause irritation of the skin making the thrush worse), it is possible to pass thrush between sexual partners.
Both men and women can get thrush.
The signs of thrush in men include redness, itching, and burning on the head of the penis, and under the foreskin; white discharge with an unpleasant smell from the site of the infection resembling cottage cheese; pain and irritation during sexual intercourse and pain when whilst passing urine.”
For more information or thrush or intimate health, visit canesten.co.uk.
Canesten has a range of products to help including a Fluconazole oral tablet (Canesten Thrush Duo Oral Capsule & External Cream***) and internal and external creams (Canesten Thrush Combi Internal and External Creams or the Canesten Thrush Combi Pessary & External Cream****) to help clear infection and calm the itch as well as a plethora of information on thrush to help you navigate it - check out Canesten’s dedicated hub.
*Saurabh Phadnis does not endorse any medicinal product or treatment.
**Medicines can affect the unborn baby. Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medicine in pregnancy.
***Canesten Thrush Oral Capsule contains Fluconazole. Always read the label. Do not use this product if you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breast-feeding.
****Canesten Thrush External Cream contains Clotrimazole. Always read the label.