Vaginal thrush: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Vaginal thrush: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Vaginal thrush: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Vaginal thrush is an infection in the genital area that can be accompanied by itching and vaginal discharge. The cause is usually the yeast Candida albicans. 

Woman with pink underwear

What is vaginal thrush?

Vaginal thrush is a fungal infection in the genital area, in which the vulva (outer genital area) and vagina (vagina) predominantly ignite – hence also called vulvovaginal candidiasis. The most common pathogen is the yeast Candida albicans . In addition, other species such as Candida glabrata or Candida tropicalis can lead to an infection, albeit more rarely.

Fungal infections in the genital area occur in both women and men and are contagious. They can be transmitted especially in the event of unprotected sexual intercourse. In men, the glans and foreskin are mostly affected, which manifests itself in balanitis (inflammation of the foreskin and glans) .

Fungi often colonize the skin and mucous membrane, so they are part of the normal flora of women and men. However, they do not cause any symptoms if they live in a natural balance with other microorganisms, for example with the lactic acid bacteria in the vagina. They are also kept in check by the immune system.

If the healthy flora gets out of sync, the mushrooms can multiply. Typical symptoms of fungal disease include redness and swelling of the affected area. In addition, there is often a burning sensation in the vagina, itching and a creamy to friable discharge . Pain during intercourse can also occur.

Univ. Prof. Dr. with. Dr. with. habil. Ernst Rainer Weissenbacher

Advisory expert

University professorDr. Ernst-Rainer Weissenbacher is a specialist in gynecology and obstetrics. He has been running an infectious specialist clinic for many years (Premium Medicine Specialist Center, Munich). The focus is on the diagnosis and treatment of chronic and chronic recurrent infections of the lower genital tract, such as fungal infections and bacterial vaginosis.

Mr. Weissenbacher is also President of the European Society for Infectious Diseases in Obstetrics and Gynecology (ESIDOG, Germany) and is scientifically involved in infectious diseases and immunology in gynecology. He co-founded the German Center for Gynecological and Obstetric Infections.

Vaginal thrush: causes and risk factors

Especially yeasts like Candida albicans – rarely also Candida glabrata or Candida tropicalis – cause fungal diseases in the genital area. Like all mushrooms, they love a warm, moist environment. Candida species can form spores and thus survive in unfavorable living conditions. In this state, they cause no problems.

The fungi either colonize the skin and mucous membrane of the vagina, oral cavity or glans directly, or they get there via the gastrointestinal tract. Most of the time they live in balance with other microorganisms. The vagina, for example, mainly colonize lactic acid bacteria. They produce lactic acid, which creates an acidic environment: the pH of the vagina is usually below 4.5. Together with the immune system, this prevents the yeast from multiplying excessively.

However, certain factors can cause the vaginal milieu to become unbalanced. Then candida mushrooms can multiply and cause the symptoms of a fungal infection. The following causes of vaginal thrush are:

  • Hormone changes in women can affect the vaginal flora, especially an increased estrogen concentration. It can exist due to natural fluctuations and occurs especially during pregnancy . However, it can also be triggered by taking the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement products. With the pill, the estrogen content differs depending on the preparation .

  • Also, metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus encourage fungal diseases.

  • Likewise diseases that weaken the immune system , for example AIDS.

  • Medicines that suppress the immune system ( immunosuppressants ) or cortisone preparations can cause candidiasis. However, the main risk factor for Candida infection in the genital area is the use of antibiotics: They are used to kill certain harmful bacteria, but often do not catch them precisely, but moreover they are useful, such as lactic acid bacteria. This gives mushrooms room to multiply.

  • In addition, excessive hygiene in the genital area can change the natural skin flora and allow fungi to grow. Above all, the use of aggressive or highly perfumed care products contributes to this. They can destroy useful bacteria and give harmful fungi space to multiply.

  • Also wrong clothes can encourage fungal growth. Tight clothing and synthetic fabrics lead to sweating and heat build-up – and thus to an ideal environment for mushrooms.

  • Mushrooms can be transferred from one partner to another through unprotected sexual intercourse .

Vaginal thrush: symptoms

Women usually notice vaginal thrush from a burning sensation in the vagina, itching and a crumbly whitish discharge.

When should go to the doctor?

If you experience the symptoms of a fungal infection for the first time or if they recur frequently, you should see a gynecologist. Pregnant women should also contact their doctor and discuss the appropriate therapy with him or her. When in doubt, it is always advisable to seek medical advice. The doctor can check whether there may be another cause behind the symptoms.

Vaginal thrush: diagnosis

If a woman comes to the gynecologist with a suspected vaginal thrush, he or she will first ask various questions about her symptoms. He tries to estimate the duration and form of the complaints and to assess whether it could possibly be another illness. Among other things, he will ask questions about medication taken, daily hygiene or current sexual partners.

Then the doctor usually takes a smear from the affected areas. It is checked under the microscope whether there is a fungal infection. If thread-like structures can be seen, it is likely. Otherwise, it could also be a bacterial infection. The sample is then often examined in a laboratory. The type of mushroom can also be determined here.

A fungal infection does not heal in around ten percent of women, it occurs again and again. If this happens more than four times a year, gynecologists speak of a chronic vaginal fungus, more precisely: a chronic recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis.

A fungus culture is particularly important for recurrent Candida infections. In this way, fungi that are resistant to the usual medicines can also be discovered. Common fungal diseases can also indicate undetected diabetes mellitus.

Self-test for infections?

Especially for pregnant women, it is important to prevent vaginal infections or to recognize them early. Because both bacterial vaginosis and vaginal thrush can be dangerous for the baby: the bacteria can rise into the uterus and trigger premature birth, a fungal infection can pass on to the baby at birth. In order to recognize early when the pH value in the vagina is out of balance, there are pH test strips or pH test gloves in the pharmacy.

Doctors especially recommend the tests to women who have an increased risk of premature birth. You can determine the vaginal pH about once a week. However, you must note that some factors can change the pH for some time, for example sexual intercourse. If the pH is increased, pregnant women should consult a doctor. Attention: Mushrooms in particular can also multiply at a normal pH. The pH test alone does not rule out fungal infections.

Vaginal thrush: treatment

Antifungal agents, so-called antifungals, are available for treatment in the form of suppositories, creams or tablets. These drugs inhibit or kill the growth of the fungi. Read more about treatment for vaginal thrush here.

Vagina: Prevention

A fungal infection of the vagina can be prevented with the help of various measures. This includes proper intimate hygiene and clothing, as well as possibly supportive agents for the vaginal flora. Don’t forget to check out our e-book.

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