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 a doctor
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. Your doctor will know how 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, return to your doctor if thrush doesn't improve after treatment, or if you have frequent bouts - i.e. at least one every few months.
Read more about how vaginal thrush is diagnosed.
Why it happens
Thrush is usually caused by a yeast-like fungus called Candida albicans.
Many women have Candida in the vagina without it causing any symptoms. Hormones in the vaginal secretions and the friendly vagina 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 occasionally 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.
Read more about the causes of vaginal thrush.
Thrush is usually easily treated with either a tablet that you take by mouth, or anti-thrush pessaries that you insert into the vagina. There are also anti-thrush creams that you can apply to the skin around the vagina to ease the soreness and itchiness.
Anti-thrush remedies are available either on prescription from a doctor or over-the-counter from a pharmacy.
Treatment works well for most women, and vaginal thrush usually clears up within a few days.
Around one in 20 women, however, may have recurrent thrush (four or more episodes in one year). One 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 thrush treatments.
Who gets vaginal thrush?
Vaginal thrush is extremely common. Around 75% (three-quarters) of women will have an attack at some point. Up to half of these will have thrush more than once.
Thrush most commonly affects women in their twenties and thirties. It is less common in girls who have not yet started their periods, and women who have been through the menopause.
While any woman can experience a bout of thrush, you're especially prone to it if you:
- are pregnant
- take antibiotics
- have diabetes
- have a weakened immune system
Read more about what you can do to prevent vaginal thrush.
Thrush in pregnancy
You are more prone than usual to thrush while you're pregnant.
There's no evidence that thrush affects your chances of getting pregnant. And, if you have thrush while you're pregnant, it won't harm your unborn baby.
However, if you're pregnant or breastfeeding and you have thrush, you should avoid oral anti-thrush treatments. Instead, use vaginal pessaries, plus an anti-thrush cream if necessary.