Health conditions

Thrush (genital)

Thrush (or candidiasis) is a common condition caused by a type of yeast called Candida. It mainly affects the vagina, though may affect the penis too, and can be irritating and painful.

Many types of yeast and bacteria naturally live in the vagina and rarely cause problems. Candida is a yeast-like fungus that lives in warm, moist places such as the mouth, bowel, vagina and the foreskin of the penis. Thrush is caused when there is an overgrowth of Candida.

How do you get thrush?

Normally your body and vaginal bacteria stop the overgrowth of Candida. However, if either of these changes, Candida can quickly multiply, leading to thrush.

Thrush is more likely to occur if:

  • you’re pregnant
  • you’re taking oral contraceptives
  • you’re on medication such as antibiotics (which can kill off normal, healthy bacteria as well as disease-causing ones)
  • you have undiagnosed or poorly managed diabetes
  • you’re under a lot of stress.

It can also be more common at certain times during the menstrual cycle when oestrogen levels are higher, such as before or after a period.

How is thrush spread?

Thrush is not a sexually transmitted infection and can occur without sexual contact. However, Candida can sometimes be passed on during sex, and sexual activity can make thrush symptoms worse.

What are the signs and symptoms of thrush?

Symptoms of thrush vary. Some people can have thrush but have no symptoms. Common symptoms of thrush include:

  • a thick white or yellow discharge from the vagina which may or may not have a yeasty smell
  • stinging pain when passing urine
  • pain or discomfort during sex
  • itchy or swollen genitals.

Symptoms for men can include red spots or rash on the penis, scrotum or groin. Some uncircumcised men have Candida under the foreskin, but have no symptoms.

How is thrush tested and treated?

Thrush can be diagnosed by examination of the affected area. A swab can also be taken and tested in a laboratory to confirm a diagnosis of thrush.

You can buy pessaries (dissolving tablets you put into the vagina) and cream over-the-counter from your pharmacy. Complete the treatment even if you are having a period. Men should apply the cream to the genital area, penis and under the foreskin, if uncircumcised.

If these treatments don’t work or if you often get thrush, see a doctor as you may have other health problems or a drug-resistant type of Candida. Your doctor may also test for sexually transmissible infections, which can cause similar symptoms. Your sex partners may need treatment at the same time to stop you getting it again.

Natural yoghurt can help soothe the area but won’t cure thrush.

How can thrush be prevented?

To help prevent thrush:

  • wear loose pants or skirts, and cotton underwear. Tight or synthetic clothes stop air movement and create moist conditions, which are ideal for bacteria.
  • avoid using soaps or sprays in the genital area, as they can cause irritation.
  • wash your hands before touching the vaginal area
  • wash your hands after going to the toilet
  • women should wipe themselves from front to back after going to the toilet
  • wash the genital area with water only. After washing, gently wipe the area dry
  • thrush can be passed on through sex:
    • don’t have vaginal sex straight after anal sex
    • wash thoroughly after anal sex and use a new condom and water-based lubricant before engaging in vaginal sex
    • always use condoms, dental dams and water-based lubricant when having sex to avoid getting thrush and sexually transmitted infections.

Where to get help


  • Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of yeast known as Candida Albicans.
  • The condition can affect both women and men.
  • Treatment may vary and is determined by the severity of your symptoms.
  • Consult your doctor if you have recurrent episodes of thrush.

Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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