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. It can also keep returning – this is known as recurrent (or complicated) thrush.
Read more about the symptoms of vaginal thrush.
When to see your GP
If you display the symptoms of vaginal thrush for the very first time, it is recommended that you visit a GP, especially if you experience pain.
This is because the symptoms of vaginal thrush are sometimes similar to those of a number of skin conditions and, occasionally, a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, your GP will be able to diagnose you correctly.
Your GP can take a swab to confirm whether or not you have vaginal thrush and prescribe the most suitable medication.
If you've had vaginal thrush diagnosed before and you recognise the symptoms, you can go directly to a pharmacy to buy anti-thrush medication over the counter.
Find your local pharmacy here.
However, if your thrush doesn't improve after treatment, or if you have frequent bouts (at least one every few months), you should return to your GP.
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. 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 an STI, but it can sometimes be passed on to men during sex. This means that 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 also be triggered by sex, and this is more likely if you have trouble relaxing and producing lubrication during intercourse.
Read more about the causes of vaginal thrush and how thrush can be passed on through sex.
In most cases, thrush can be easily treated with either a tablet that you take orally or anti-thrush pessaries, which are inserted into your vagina. Anti-thrush creams are also available, which you apply to the skin around the vagina to ease any soreness and itchiness. If you are using an antifungal tablet, you may prefer to use an ordinary emollient (moisturiser) near your vagina, as antifungal creams can sometimes cause irritation.
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 (4 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 6 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 in their lives. 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 particularly prone if you:
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. It's important to note that if you have thrush while 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 intravaginal cream or pessaries, plus an anti-thrush cream if necessary.
Read more about thrush treatments in pregnancy.