Vaginal thrush (candidiasis)

Vaginal thrush is an infection of the vagina that is caused by the specie of fungi called Candida; Hence it is also called candidiasis. This type of fungi is called yeast. Some candida species are normally found on our skins but a good immunity keeps the number of these organisms under check. Contrary to popular beliefs, ‘germs’ are not all bad. There is some type of germs that are beneficial to our bodies and some that are usually in some parts of our bodies but do not cause any harm. However, if an individual’s immune system becomes weak, it loses its ability to keep the growth of these germs called ‘normal commensals’ in check. This then causes an infection with those uncomfortable symptoms

Yeast infection or thrush occurs when normal host immunity is reduced leading to excessive growth of the yeast which then causes the symptoms such as whitish or yellowish deposits or discharges in the vagina. When there is an overgrowth of the yeast in the vagina, it is called vaginal thrush or vulvovaginal candidiasis.

What causes vaginal thrush?

Any condition that lowers one’s immunity (that is the body’s ability to fight infections). These include:

  • Inherited immune dysfunction
  • Acquired immune dysfunction e.g HIV infection
  • Long term use of steroid medications including inhaled steroids used in asthma treatment
  • Long term use of antibiotics or indiscriminate use
  • Malnutrition
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Cancers like leukaemia
  • Cancer chemotherapy drugs and radiation
  • Pregnancy
vaginal thrush
vaginal thrush/  Gaide Zoui/ Shutterstock

How do you get vaginal thrush?

It can be transmitted through:

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  • Sexual intercourse with a partner with vaginal or penile candidiasis can also transmit the disease.
  • Sharing of underwear with a person who has genital thrush.

Other situations that may increase risk of developing yeast infections include:

  • Use of hormonal drugs inserted into the vagina such as progesterone pessaries
  • Use of birth control pills

Douching– washing the inner part of female privates (vagina) vigorously can wipe off all the normal commensals leading to an overgrowth of candida and then vaginal or vulvovaginal candidiasis. The vagina is a self-cleansing organ. There is a normal vaginal discharge which should be odourless, non-itchy and whitish but turns yellow on your underwear when exposed to air. This is not abnormal therefore you do not have to wash the inner part of your vagina with medicated soap and antiseptics because you will kill off the good bacteria that keep your vagina healthy and cause an infection. The vulva which is the outer part of the female privates is the part that should be washed during a bath. Also, avoid inserting substances and other items into your vagina, it may introduce an infectious agent into the vagina.

****Not everyone who comes in contact with a person who has thrush through the above-listed means will develop the disease. If your immunity is not weak, then it can fight off the infection.

Symptoms of vaginal thrush

  • thick vagina discharge
  • burning sensation while urinating
  • itchy vagina.
  • pain during sexual intercourse

Prevention of vaginal thrush

  • Avoiding situations that may lower your immunity such as indiscriminate use of antibiotics and steroids
  • Ensuring good blood glucose control if diabetic
  • Avoiding nylon underwear, scented soap or powder.
  • Avoiding douching.
  • Having a balanced diet

Diagnosis of candiasis

The diagnosis of thrush is often clinical but some tests may be done to confirm it and to find out if there is any disease condition that may predispose to thrush. For instance, your doctor may check your sugar levels, blood levels and request to know HIV status. Your doctor may take a swab from the vagina for culture.

Treatment of vaginal thrush

If left untreated and in very severe cases it can spread to the bloodstream causing fever, poor appetite, body weakness and may be fatal.

Vaginal pessaries and creams may be prescribed for genital infections. Usually, vaginal pessaries are used for 3-7 days but mild cases may be treated for a day.

It is best to insert the pessaries at night after a bath and just before bedtime. Sexual intercourse should be avoided during treatment.

About the author

Nwasom is a pharmacy graduate and a pharmacist currently practising in the United Kingdom. I have great experience communicating with patients and their family as gained through working as a pharmacist in both the hospital and community pharmacy sector. I love writing so it was a natural thing to try and pass medical and health information on through writing.