Vaginal thrush, also known as vaginal yeast infection, is an inflammation caused by a type of yeast called Candida albicans. Vaginal thrush is very common and about three in four women will have at least one episode of thrush at some point during their life.
Candida albicans can live harmlessly on skin and mucous membranes in or around the vagina. It's usually kept at safe levels by your immune system and other healthy vaginal bacteria. However, a change in the vaginal environment can allow the yeast to grow more than usual, causing thrush (also known as vaginal candidiasis).
Vaginal thrush can keep coming back. Having thrush symptoms more than four times in a year is known as recurrent infection.
You may not have any symptoms, so you may not realise you have vaginal thrush. However, possible symptoms can include:
You may also have some inflammation of the vulva, including:
It's important that you see your GP if you have any of these symptoms.
Persistent thrush infection may be difficult to control and requires repeat treatments. Recurrent infections can cause discomfort and affect your sex life. You may feel down or anxious because of this.
Vaginal thrush is caused by an increase in the amount of Candida albicans in the vagina. There are several things which make vaginal thrush more likely, including:
There’s little or no evidence to suggest that using tampons or sanitary towels can cause vaginal thrush. However, a soiled tampon or sanitary towel can provide an ideal environment for bacteria to grow, so it's important that you change them frequently.
Thrush is not thought of as a sexually transmitted infection because you can get it without having sex. However, because men can also carry Candida albicans, sexual partners of people who are carrying the yeast or who have thrush can sometimes develop symptoms as well.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and may also ask you about your medical history and whether you’ve had thrush in the past. Your GP will usually diagnose thrush from your symptoms.
If any treatment that your doctor advises doesn't work, your symptoms are considered severe or if thrush keeps coming back, your GP may take a swab from your vagina to confirm the diagnosis. This isn't usually painful, although it may feel a little uncomfortable. The sample is sent to a laboratory for testing.
Most thrush infections respond to antifungal treatments such as oral tablets, creams or pessaries. A pessary is a small tablet that’s inserted into the vagina. Examples include clotrimazole and imidazole cream or pessary, and a one-off fluconazole tablet. These are available from your pharmacist without prescription.
Certain treatments for vaginal thrush may damage condoms and diaphragms. There are also reports that some antifungal treatments can stop oral contraceptives working properly. Always get advice from your pharmacist or GP before starting any treatment, and read the accompanying consumer medicine information leaflet. You should complete the full course of treatment even if your symptoms improve.
The infection clears up completely in most women. If your symptoms don't improve in seven to 14 days or the symptoms come back, see your GP, who may prescribe different antifungal medicines.
There isn't any evidence to suggest treating a male partner helps, unless he has a rash or a sore penis.
If you're pregnant, see your GP before using any medicines (including creams and pessaries) to treat thrush.
The following tips may help to reduce your risk of vaginal thrush:
Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia
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Last published: 30 July 2011
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