Recognising and understanding vaginal thrush

A vaginal thrush or yeast infection, also known as candidiasis, is common among women. A vagina contains bacteria and some yeast cells. The yeast cells multiply when the balance of bacteria and yeast changes in the vagina. The imbalance and increase in the number of yeast cause itching, swelling, and irritation around the vagina.

Treating thrush or vaginal yeast infection can relieve symptoms within a few days. However, in more severe cases, it might take longer to cure. Here is thorough research on yeast infection or vaginal thrush.

What is Vaginal Thrush?

Vaginal thrush is a yeast infection that develops due to an overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans. This yeast lives naturally in the bowel in small numbers in the vagina. It's usually harmless, but symptoms can develop if yeast numbers increase or the Candida albicans overgrow.

Candida is a fungus generally found on the skin and the body, including the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina. Research highlights that Candida yeast colonises the vagina of at least 20% of all women and 30% of all pregnant women without causing symptoms. About 75% of women will have vaginal thrush once in their lifetime. For example, women are likely to have a vaginal yeast infection during pregnancy if they have a weak immune system or taking certain medications.

These infections are also known as candidal vaginitis, vaginal candidiasis, or vulvovaginal candidiasis. The yeast infections typically cause several noticeable symptoms for non-pregnant and pregnant women.

Vaginal thrush can cause abnormal vaginal discharge, itching, or burning. The external (outer) sex organs, such as the labia, are often inflamed. As a result, the membranes lining the vagina get red and usually have a white coating. The symptoms will likely worsen a few days before your period begins. If the inflammation spreads to the external genitals, areas such as the labia might get red and swollen.

Vaginal thrush often leads to a whitish-yellowish vaginal discharge. It can be watery or chunky, like cottage cheese or curdled milk. Sex can be painful if you have a yeast infection (thrush). If the urethra is inflamed, urinating also hurts. In some cases, vaginal yeast infections don't cause any symptoms.

Certain medications and pregnancy may often disrupt the healthy balance of microorganisms (germs) in the membranes. For example, the estrogen level in the body is exceptionally high during pregnancy. Therefore, it may upset the healthy balance and increase the likelihood of developing a vaginal yeast infection. In addition, taking the contraceptive pill (birth control pill) affects a woman's hormone levels similarly to pregnancy. So women who take the contraceptive pill are also more prone to have vaginal thrush.

Vaginal yeast infections aren't sexually transmitted infections (STI), commonly known as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Sexual contact may contribute to spreading it. However, women who aren't sexually active can also get them.

Symptoms of Vaginal Thrush

If you develop vaginal thrush, the symptoms you may experience include:

  • Vaginal discomfort, itching or burning
  • White-yellow thick and clumpy vaginal discharge and yeasty smell
  • Soreness, redness, or swelling of the vagina or vulva
  • Vulvar rash
  • Splits in the genital skin
  • Burning or stinging while urinating or during sex
  • Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse

Thrush or vaginal yeast infections do not produce a strong vaginal odour. Fishy vaginal odours are more common with bacterial Vaginosis, a type of bacterial infection of the vagina. Severe vaginal thrush may also cause redness and tears or cracks (fissures) in the wall of the vagina.

Causes of Vaginal Thrush

The yeast Candida is a naturally residing microorganism in the vaginal area. Lactobacillus, good bacteria, keeps their growth in check. Unfortunately, if there's an imbalance in your system, these bacteria won't work effectively. Such a condition leads to an overgrowth of yeast, which causes the symptoms of vaginal yeast infections. Several factors can cause a yeast infection or vaginal thrush, like:

  • Antibiotics decrease the amount of Lactobacillus in the vagina
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Weak immune system
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress
  • Hormonal imbalance near your menstrual cycle

A specific yeast type called Candida albicans causes most yeast infections. These infections are easily treatable.

How to Diagnose Vaginal Thrush?

To diagnose vaginal thrush, your GP will have to: 

  • Take a history of your symptoms 
  • Scrutinise your genitals
  • Take a swab from the affected area

Is Thrush Transmitted Sexually?

No, vaginal yeast infection is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It occurs by an overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans, generally found on the genital skin. This overgrowth may occur due to: 

  • Pregnancy
  • Oral contraceptive use
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Recent antibiotic use
  • Associated vulval skin conditions, such as eczema
  • General illnesses like diabetes, iron deficiency and immune system disorders

Sometimes, you can't identify the reasons for candida overgrowth.

Prevention of Vaginal Thrush

To help prevent vaginal thrush: 

  • Try cleaning your bottom from front to back after going to the toilet. This prevents the spread of Candida albicans from the anus to the vagina.
  • Avoid soap to wash the genital area. Use soap substitutes.  
  • Avoid using douches, antiseptics or perfumed sprays in the genital area.
  • Avoid using perfumed toilet paper and products associated with menstruation.
  • Don't wear synthetic underwear and tight-fitting jeans or pants.
  • Change your laundry detergent.
  • Avoid using fabric softeners.

Sex and Vaginal Thrush

You can have sex if you have a yeast infection or vaginal thrush. However, you might find it uncomfortable and experience a burning sensation during or after sex. Use plenty of lubricants to avoid this.

Vaginal thrush is not an STI, but male partners can sometimes get redness and irritation after sex. In addition, the treatment for vaginal thrush may weaken condoms. So, applying the treatments after sex is best if you use condoms.

How to Manage Recurrent Thrush

If you experience recurrent vaginal thrush episodes, it's best to see your GP to confirm that it is thrush and that you don't have an STI. In addition, your GP can check for other skin conditions with similar symptoms and rule out other factors that can cause thrush (such as diabetes).

Sometimes a different version of Candida might be the cause if you're having recurring yeast infections or face problems getting rid of a yeast infection with conventional treatment. A lab test helps identify what type of Candida you have. In addition, the GP will identify and manage any factor contributing to the overgrowth of Candida albicans.

If the GP finds no contributing factors, he may recommend a course of preventative treatment.

No known evidence supports the treatment of male partners of women with vaginal thrush. Thrush outbreaks, being uncomfortable, do not cause any long-term health issues. However, the research is limited, and there is also no clear evidence that dietary changes prevent thrush.


Vaginal thrush is a yeast infection that develops due to an overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans. This yeast lives naturally in the bowel in small numbers. It's usually harmless, but symptoms can develop if yeast numbers increase or the Candida albicans overgrow.

Vaginal yeast infections aren't sexually transmitted infections. Sexual contact may contribute to spreading it, but women who aren't sexually active can also get them.

The symptoms of vaginal thrush might range from vaginal itching and burning to pain while urinating or during sex. There are specific preventions to avoid the infection. Treating thrush or vaginal yeast infection may soothe symptoms within a short time. However, it may take longer to clear the symptoms in severe cases.

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