Vaginal thrush (candida)

Vaginal thrush is a fairly common yeast infection of the vagina, also known as candidiasis.

With regards to vaginal thrush causes, 80 to 90 percent of these infections are caused by the fungus Candida albicans. While the body produces ‘friendly’ bacteria that normally keep it in check, candida can multiply beyond the body’s ability to control it. This is when vaginal thrush occurs.

The use of antibiotics, contraceptive pills and diaphragms increase the chances of developing vaginal thrush. If your immunity is low or you have diabetes, the risk is also increased. Vaginal thrush in pregnancy is also common.

Vaginal thrush is not a sexually transmitted disease.

What are its symptoms?

While uncomfortable, vaginal thrush is fairly harmless. It is referred to as ‘uncomplicated’ when it occurs occasionally, and ‘complicated’ if it occurs four or more times a year.

Vaginal thrush symptoms include:

  • Itchiness, soreness and general discomfort around the entrance to the vagina
  • A stinging sensation during urination
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Vaginal thrush discharge – this can be watery and odourless or thick and white

More severe symptoms include:

  • Swelling and redness around the vagina and vulva
  • Skin lesions (cracks) around the entrance to the vagina

How is it diagnosed?

It is advised that your visit your doctor or clinic if you experience any of these symptoms, especially if it’s for the first time, you’re younger than 16 or older than 60, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, have accompanying abdominal pain, or blood-stained or odorous discharge.

If you recognise the symptoms, vaginal thrush treatment is available over the counter at your pharmacy.

A GP can diagnose vaginal thrush based on your symptoms. If however, these are severe, you’re having recurring bouts, or antifungal medications are not working, a number of further tests may be performed to establish whether you may have an STD, such as trichomoniasis (caused by a parasite) that has similar symptoms to vaginal thrush. These include:

  • Vaginal swab: A sample of vaginal secretion is taken and sent for testing.
  • Blood test: This may be performed to establish whether an underlying condition, such as elevated blood glucose levels, may be causing recurring bouts.
  • pH level test: This tests the acid/alkaline balance of the vagina. Levels higher than 4.5, which is the norm, may indicate a bacterial vaginosis infection.

What are your treatment options?

Vaginal thrush treatment is available on prescription or as over-the-counter medication from your pharmacy. For mild thrush, a course of anti-thrush medication may be given, usually taken for one to three days. In more severe cases, the dosage may be for longer.

Vaginal thrush medication is available as:

  • An anti-thrush pessary: This is a ‘pill’ that is inserted into the vagina
  • Vaginal thrush cream: This treats the infection on the skin around the vagina
  • Oral treatments are also available

Your doctor may prescribe more than one treatment at a time for recurring vaginal thrush. Always inform your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Can it be prevented?

While thrush is not a sexually transmitted disease or a reflection of poor personal hygiene, there are a number of ways to help prevent it.

  • Maintain the normal mucous conditions of the vagina by reducing the use of, for example, scented soaps, douches, bubble baths and spermacides. Use water and unscented soap instead.
  • Ensure you are well lubricated during sexual intercourse as friction may cause minor damage to the vagina, which in turn may allow candida to thrive.
  • Be aware that taking antibiotics may affect the good bacteria that are your body’s natural defence against candida.

How Clicks Pharmacies can help you

Do consult your Clicks pharmacist about the best over-the-counter vaginal thrush medication if you have a mild case of thrush. Find your closest Clicks pharmacy now.  

The accuracy of this information was checked and approved by physician Dr Thomas Blake in June 2015