Women's Health

Everything You Need to Know About Vaginal Thrush

Everything You Need to Know About Vaginal Thrush

Key Takeaways

  • Vaginal thrush is a common condition among women and is caused by a yeast infection.
  • Vaginal yeast infections are caused by a fungus called candida, which causes symptoms such as itching, swelling, and irritation.
  • If you have had a yeast infection once in your life, then you are more likely to develop another episode.

Vaginal thrush is a common condition among women and is caused by a yeast infection. It may be uncomfortable and unpleasant at times, but is treatable with medication available in pharmacies. However, there have been cases where treatment was difficult and in some women, the infection kept coming back. Keep reading to learn more about vaginal thrush, such as its signs and symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment.

What is vaginal thrush?

Vaginal thrush is also known as vaginal yeast infection or candidiasis. This is a common condition that affects females. Vaginal yeast infections are caused by a fungus called candida, which causes symptoms such as itching, swelling, and irritation.

According to several studies, three out of four women will experience a vaginal yeast infection during their lifetime. If you have had a yeast infection once in your life, then you are more likely to develop another episode.

Although vaginal yeast infections can spread through sexual contact, they are not considered a sexually-transmitted infection. The reason for this is that factors other than sexual activity can cause vaginal candidiasis. Depending on the yeast infection's severity, its treatment varies, although it is usually very simple.

What are the causes of vaginal thrush?

The main culprit behind a vaginal yeast infection is the fungus known as candida. It is a naturally-occurring organism in the vaginal area. The growth of this fungus is kept in check by a bacterium called lactobacillus. The lactobacilli and candida compete with each other for survival within the vagina. If the lactobacilli bacteria fail to function properly, it leads to the overgrowth of the candida organisms, thus producing the symptoms of a vaginal candidiasis infection.

A majority of yeast infections are caused by a specific kind of fungus known as candida albicans. Infections caused by these organisms are simple and therefore can be treated easily. There are other kinds of candida organisms that may cause yeast infection.

The imbalance between the organisms that lead to the overgrowth of candida organisms can be due to any of several reasons. Some of them are:

  • Pregnancy
  • Uncontrolled diabetes mellitus
  • Weakened immune system such as in conditions like HIV or during treatments such as chemotherapy
  • Antibiotics that destroy the lactobacilli in the vagina
  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress
  • Hormonal imbalances in your menstrual cycle
  • Poor eating habits

If you are in your twenties or thirties, your risk of developing vaginal candidiasis is high. Vaginal yeast infections are less common in girls who have not yet reached menarche and in post-menopausal women.

What are the symptoms of vaginal thrush?

The common symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include:

  • Vaginal itching
  • Burning sensation of the vagina
  • A white, thick, curd-like vaginal discharge
  • Painful intercourse
  • Soreness of the vagina
  • Rash

The symptoms are usually mild, but if the infection is left untreated, they will worsen over time.

How is vaginal thrush diagnosed?

Yeast infections are very easy to diagnose. When you first visit your doctor, he or she will take a complete, detailed history from you, including questions about prior yeast infections and history of sexually-transmitted infections.

After taking down your history, your doctor will proceed to do a pelvic exam. They will examine your vagina and the surrounding area to look for signs of infection. Next, they will examine the vaginal walls and the cervix with the help of a speculum. They will also take a vaginal swab to send to the lab for confirmation if they suspect vaginal thrush.

Often, your doctor will diagnose the condition solely through the history you have given and from the results of your pelvic exam. Therefore, further investigations are not usually done. However, they may be necessary for those who develop regular vagina yeast infections and in those in whom it is hard to treat.

How is vaginal thrush treated?

The treatment will depend on the yeast infection, because not every yeast infection is the same. Therefore, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan that best suits you. The treatment mainly depends on the severity of your infection.

Treatment of a simple infection:

Simple yeast infections are often easy to treat, and your doctor will usually prescribe the following drugs:

  • An antifungal cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository to be used for one to three days. The common antifungal drugs that may be given are butoconaole, miconazole, monistat, or terconazole.
  • An oral drug such as fluconazole may also be prescribed.

It is important for you to follow up with your doctor to make sure that the drugs prescribed work well for you. It is also important to visit your doctor if your symptoms reappear after about two months.

Treatment of a complicated infection:

Your doctor will consider your infection as a severe or complicated case if you have the following symptoms:

  • If you have severe redness, swelling, and itching that lead to soreness or tears in the vaginal tissue
  • If you have had more than four yeast infection within the last year
  • If your infection is caused by a candida organism other than candida albicans
  • If you are pregnant
  • If you have uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, a weakened immune system due to an illness such as in HIV, or following medical therapy such as chemotherapy

The treatment of a severe or complicated case of vaginal yeast infection includes:

  • An antifungal cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository to be used for 14 days continuously
  • Oral fluconazole to be taken for two or three days
  • Long-term use of oral fluconazole to be taken once a week for six weeks' duration, or long-term topical anti-fungal medication
  • Treatment of the sexual partner
  • Use of condoms during sexual activity

Can you prevent vaginal thrush?

In a majority of cases, women know what caused their yeast infection, for example, having taken a certain antibiotic. So recognizing your risk factors that made you likely to develop the yeast infection is important. Avoiding these risk factors can help to avoid recurrences.

You can prevent yeast infection through some common methods. Most of these methods aim to prevent the overgrowth of the fungus in the vagina. Some of the preventative measures you can do are:

  • Eat yogurt, as it has a lot of lactobacilli
  • Avoid tight pants, leggings, or tights
  • Avoid staying in wet clothes, especially bathing suits, for a longer time than necessary
  • Avoid feminine deodorant, deodorant tampons, or scented pads
  • Eat a well-balanced healthy diet
  • Use hot water to wash your underwear 
  • Avoid douching
  • Replace all feminine products regularly