Thrush - including symptoms, treatment and prevention

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, but other types of yeast sometimes are involved.

Candida is usually present in small numbers and does not cause symptoms. Sometimes overgrowth of Candida occurs and symptoms develop. Also, some women may be more sensitive than others to the presence of Candida and can develop symptoms even when only small numbers of yeast are present.

Circumstances that encourage the overgrowth of Candida albicans include:

  • hormonal changes (for example, pregnancy)
  • medication side effects, especially antibiotics and steroids
  • medical conditions such as diabetes and Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
  • immune suppression
  • some cancers and their treatment.

How thrush is spread

Thrush is not considered to be a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The yeasts which cause thrush may be present all the time. It is changes in the woman’s body which allow the condition to develop.

Signs and symptoms of thrush

Symptoms of thrush in women include:

  • vaginal itch, discomfort or irritation
  • vaginal discharge
  • redness and/or swelling of the vagina or vulva
  • stinging or burning when passing urine.

Other conditions, such as genital herpes or urinary tract infection may have similar symptoms, so it is important to have the diagnosis confirmed.

Diagnosis of thrush

Thrush is diagnosed by clinical presentation and confirmed by microscopic examination and growth of yeast from a swab from the vagina.

Incubation period

(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)

The yeasts which cause thrush may be present all the time. It is changes in the woman’s body which allow the condition to develop.

Infectious period

(time during which an infected person can infect others)

Person-to-person spread does not usually occur.

Treatment for thrush

Effective treatments with vaginal creams and vaginal tablets are available.

Patients with frequently recurring thrush should seek medical advice to make sure they do not have a medical condition such as diabetes. Additional treatment with oral tablets may be required.

There is no evidence that dietary changes help prevent thrush.

Prevention of thrush

  • Male sexual partners of women with thrush do not require treatment, except very occasionally when a woman has recurrent infections
  • women should always wipe from front to back after using the toilet, to avoid spreading yeast from the anus to the vagina.

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