NHS Choices - Introduction
Most women experience occasional bouts of a common yeast infection known as vaginal thrush.
It causes itching, irritation and swelling of the vagina and surrounding area, sometimes with a creamy white cottage cheese-like discharge.
Vaginal thrush is fairly harmless but it can be uncomfortable and it can keep coming back, which is known as recurrent thrush.
Read more about the symptoms of vaginal thrush.
When to see your GP
It makes sense to see your GP if you have the symptoms of vaginal thrush for the very first time.
That's because the symptoms of vaginal thrush are sometimes similar to those of a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Your GP will be able to tell the difference.
Your GP can diagnose vaginal thrush and prescribe the most suitable anti-thrush medication for you.
If you've had diagnosed vaginal thrush before and you recognise your symptoms, you can go directly to a pharmacy to buy anti-thrush medication over the counter.
However, you should return to your GP if your thrush doesn't improve after treatment, or if you have frequent bouts (at least one every few months).
Read more about how vaginal thrush is diagnosed.
Why thrush happens
Thrush is a yeast infection, usually caused by a yeast-like fungus called Candida albicans.
Many women have Candida in their vagina without it causing any symptoms. Hormones in vaginal secretions and 'friendly' vaginal bacteria keep the fungus under control. Problems arise when the natural balance in the vagina is upset and Candida multiplies.
Vaginal thrush isn't a sexually transmitted infection but it can sometimes be passed on during sex. So, if you have thrush it's best to avoid having sex until you've completed a course of treatment and the infection has cleared up.
Thrush can usually be easily treated with either a tablet that you take by mouth or anti-thrush pessaries that you insert into your vagina. Anti-thrush creams are also available that you can apply to the skin around the vagina to ease any soreness and itchiness.
Anti-thrush remedies are available either on prescription from your GP or over the counter from a pharmacy.
Treatment works well for most women and vaginal thrush usually clears up within a few days.
However, about 1 in 20 women may have recurrent thrush (four or more episodes in a year). Around 1 in 100 women may have thrush almost constantly. In these instances, longer courses of treatment, for up to six months, may be needed.
Read more about treating thrush.
Who gets vaginal thrush?
Vaginal thrush is very common. Around three-quarters of women will have a bout of thrush at some point. Up to half of these will have thrush more than once.
While any woman can experience a bout of thrush, you're particularly prone to it if you:
- are pregnant
- take antibiotics
- have diabetes
- have a weakened immune system
Read more about how to prevent vaginal thrush.
Thrush in pregnancy
You are more at risk of getting thrush while you're pregnant.
There is no evidence that thrush affects your chances of getting pregnant. And, if you have thrush while you are pregnant, it won't harm your unborn baby.
However, if you're pregnant or breastfeeding and you have thrush, you should avoid taking oral anti-thrush treatments. Instead, use vaginal pessaries, plus an anti-thrush cream if necessary.
Read more about thrush treatments in pregnancy.