You may not have any symptoms, and so won’t realise you have vaginal thrush. Possible symptoms include:
- itching and soreness of your vulva (outside your vagina)
- thick, white vaginal discharge (like cottage cheese)
- slight pain during sex
- pain when passing urine
If you have severe thrush, it may cause red, cracked or damaged skin.
If you think you may have thrush, see your pharmacist for advice. If your symptoms get worse or aren't helped by an over-the-counter treatment, see your GP. Thrush isn’t a sexually transmitted infection, but shares some similar symptoms with other infections. If you’re unsure, or have any questions, contact your GP or pharmacist for advice.
Your GP or pharmacist will usually be able to diagnose thrush from your symptoms. He or she may also ask you about your medical history and whether you've had thrush before.
If over-the-counter treatments haven’t helped your symptoms, your GP may suggest examining you or may recommend a swab test. A swab looks similar to a small round cotton bud and can be used to collect a sample of cells or discharge from your vagina. This is to check you have thrush and not a bacterial infection. The test isn't usually painful, although it may feel a little uncomfortable.
A swab test is only usually necessary if:
- you’re at risk of having a different infection
- your treatment hasn’t worked
- your symptoms keep coming back
If you’re sexually active, your GP may take more swabs to test for other infections at the same time. Your GP will then send the swabs to a laboratory for testing.
If you see a doctor at a sexual health clinic, he or she may also check the pH (acidity) of your vagina with a swab. This might help to tell what is causing your symptoms.
If you were tested at a sexual health clinic, you may get the swab results immediately. If you were tested at your GP surgery, it can take longer to get the results – sometimes up to a week.
Most vaginal thrush infections can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal treatments such as tablets you swallow or vaginal creams or pessaries. These can be bought from a pharmacy or shop. A pessary is a tablet that you put into your vagina, usually at night. Examples of treatments include clotrimazole (Canesten) cream or pessary, and fluconazole (Diflucan) or itraconazole (Sporanox) tablets, which you swallow. You can also get a cream to use outside your vagina (your vulva) to sooth your symptoms.
Oral treatments for thrush work just as well as vaginal ones. There are some differences though. Oral treatments may take longer to work and cause you to feel sick, have diarrhoea or a headache. Pessaries and creams may relieve symptoms sooner, but can cause irritation and discharge.
You can buy most thrush treatments from a pharmacy without a prescription. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine. If you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
There’s a chance your thrush may come back if you don’t finish your treatment. If your symptoms don't improve within a week or two (or your symptoms come back), contact your GP. He or she may take a swab for testing in the laboratory, to check the cause of your symptoms. He or she may also prescribe different antifungal medicines or a longer course of treatment.
Eight or nine out of every 10 women find that a pessary or oral tablet clears their thrush. If your thrush comes back four or more times a year, you could need treatment for up to six months.
Sometimes men can get thrush. This can cause them to have an itchy rash and red or white patches on the skin of their penis. Men don’t usually need to be treated for thrush if their partner has symptoms but they themselves don’t. This is because treating a male partner doesn’t make it less likely that a woman’s thrush will come back.
If you're pregnant
See your GP before taking any medicines to treat thrush. It’s likely that they won’t recommend oral antifungal medicines if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Instead, your GP will recommend a pessary or cream. Take extra care when you put the pessary into your vagina, as there’s a chance this could damage your cervix (neck of your womb). You may prefer to do this by hand instead of with the applicator.
If you have diabetes or a weakened immune system
You may need a longer course of treatment for thrush, so check with your GP.
If you're sexually active
Creams and pessaries for vaginal thrush may damage condoms and diaphragms. If you use these for contraception or to protect you from sexually transmitted infections, speak to your GP or pharmacist for advice.
Vaginal thrush is caused by the amount of Candida albicans yeast in your vagina increasing. There are several things that make vaginal thrush more likely, including:
- taking antibiotics
- being pregnant
- having poorly controlled diabetes
- having a weakened immune system
Experts aren’t completely sure whether some types of contraception, such as the combined contraceptive pill, may increase your risk of getting thrush.
There’s little or no proof that the following factors can cause vaginal thrush.
- Wearing tight-fitting clothes, or synthetic (non-cotton) underwear.
- Using soap or shower gel.
- Douching (washing out your vagina with water or special douching fluid).
- Using tampons or sanitary towels.
Vaginal thrush does not usually cause any long-term problems. About one in every 100 women have continuous bouts of thrush. If your thrush keeps returning, this may cause you to get depressed and affect your sex life. See your GP if you need advice or have any questions about this.
You might be given advice to avoid tight clothing and non-cotton underwear to reduce your risk of getting thrush. You might also be advised not to use soaps and perfumed products in the bath or shower. At the moment, there isn't any proof that avoiding these things helps prevent thrush, so doctors aren't sure how well they work.
They might be helpful to prevent further irritation while you have thrush. If you’re getting thrush quite often, you may wish to try avoiding these things, to see if this helps.
If you find that taking antibiotics triggers thrush, you can ask your GP for vaginal thrush treatment at the same time they prescribe your antibiotics. That way, you have the treatment in case you need it.
Can yoghurt or complementary therapies treat vaginal thrush?
At the moment, there isn't enough proof to suggest that yoghurt or herbal therapies (such as garlic or tea tree oil) help to treat thrush.
Vaginal thrush is caused by the amount of Candida albicans yeast in your vagina increasing. It’s thought that using yoghurt containing healthy bacteria (known as ‘live’ yoghurt) may help reduce the amount of Candida albicans that can grow. Scientists have found that yoghurt or other ‘live’ products don’t really help to prevent or treat the symptoms of thrush.
There also isn’t enough proof to show that douching (washing out your vagina with water or special douching fluid) helps either. Douching can cause vaginal irritation, so experts don’t recommend it.
It's important to remember that natural doesn’t always mean harmless. Herbal therapies may interact with medicines or cause side-effects, so be sure to speak to your pharmacist or GP before taking any.
If I have vaginal thrush, should my partner be treated as well?
Your partner will only need treatment if he has symptoms of thrush.
A male partner will only need treatment for thrush if he has symptoms too. If you’re a man, things to look out for include the following.
- A red rash with white patches on your penis. This may itch.
- Discharge – this may smell.
- A tighter foreskin than normal.
These symptoms may be caused by problems other than thrush. Men with these symptoms should visit their GP or genito-urinary (GUM) clinic for advice. GUM clinics are sexual health centres that provide information, testing, contraception and treatment.
If only you have symptoms, your partner doesn't need treatment. This is because there's no proof that treating a male partner will make your symptoms better or make it less likely that your thrush will return.
Remember that pessaries and creams for vaginal thrush may damage condoms and diaphragms. Speak to your GP or pharmacist for advice.
If I get thrush when I'm pregnant, will it harm my baby?
No. Having thrush during pregnancy is common and isn't harmful to your baby.
Many women develop vaginal thrush during pregnancy. Vaginal thrush won’t harm your baby. It’s important that you see your pharmacist, GP or midwife for treatment, rather than buy it over the counter. If you see a pharmacist, be sure to let them know you are pregnant. This is because treatment for vaginal thrush can be different for women who are pregnant.
Your GP may prescribe a cream or pessary that you put directly into your vagina. Take care when inserting the pessary so you don’t damage your cervix (the neck of your womb). You may prefer to do this by hand instead of using the applicator.If your symptoms haven't improved within a week or two, you should go back to see your GP.
- Map of Medicine. Vulvovaginal candidiasis. International View. London: Map of Medicine; 2014 (Issue 2)
- Candida – female genital. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published December 2013
- Falagas ME, Betsi GI, Athanasiou S. Probiotics for prevention of recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis: a review. J Antimicrob Chemother 2006; 58:266–72. doi: 10.1093/jac/dkl246
- Vaginal and vulval candidiasis. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, reviewed July 2014
- Sexual health and contraception. Oxford handbook of general practice (online). Oxford Medicine Online. www.oxfordmedicine.com, published April 2014
- Thrush and bacterial vaginosis. Family Planning Association. www.fpa.org.uk, reviewed January 2014
- Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary (online) London: BMJ Group and Pharmaceutical Press. www.medicinescomplete.com, accessed March 2015 (online version)
- Candidiasis (vulvovaginal). Tea tree oil (intravaginal). BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published January 2010
- Balanitis: balanitis in adults. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published January 2014
- Young G, Jewell D. Topical treatment for vaginal candidiasis (thrush) in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2001, Issue 4. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD000225
- Candidiasis. Medscape. wwww.emedicine.medscape.com, published 6 October 2014
- Vulvovaginitis. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 27 March 2014
- Management of vaginal discharge in non-genitourinary medicine settings. British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH), Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH). www.fsrh.org, 2012.
- Candidiasis (vulvovaginal). BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published 5 January 2010
- Balanitis. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, reviewed April 2014
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
Reviewed by Hemali Bedi, Bupa Health Content Team, April 2015.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
Information StandardWe are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of health content and clinical engagement
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor – UK Customer
- Nick Ridgman – Lead Editor – UK Health and Care Services
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor – User Experience
- Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor – Content Library
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor – Insights
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor – Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
15-19 Bloomsbury Way