Around 138 million women around the world are affected by thrush, according to a University of Manchester study, with the incidence of recurrent thrush set to rise to an estimated 158 million people by 2030.
In the UK alone, 1.2 million women are thought to be affected by thrush currently. The condition is caused by an overgrowth of fungus called candida and tends to occur in warm, moist conditions.
University of Manchester’s Dr Riina Rautemaa-Richardson said it can have a massive impact on quality of life for millions of women, adding that recurrent thrush is common, debilitating and complex.
What causes thrush?
Thrush occurs when bacteria levels change. In women, this can happen as a result of having sex, taking antibiotics, becoming pregnant, going through the menopause, having diabetes that isn’t well controlled, or if the skin around the genitals becomes irritated or damaged. Those with a weak immune system, such as women having chemotherapy or people with HIV, are also at risk.
In the height of summer, the condition is also more prevalent. “Bacteria thrive in warm, moist conditions so in the summer you are more likely to sweat and thrush can be more common,” Tania Adib, consultant gynaecologist at the Lister Hospital, part of HCA UK, tells HuffPost UK.
“Keeping good vulval care is essential: wearing cotton underwear, avoiding tight fitting clothes and wearing no underwear at night can be very helpful.”
Both men and women can experience thrush. In women, the three main signs are:
:: white discharge (like cottage cheese), which doesn’t usually smell
:: itching and irritation around the vagina
:: soreness and stinging during sex or when urinating.
Treatment and prevention
Antifungal medicine is often the main port of call for getting rid of it. According to NHS Choices this can come in the form of a swallowable tablet, a pessary (a tablet inserted into the vagina) or a cream for the vulva to ease itchiness.
The condition should disappear within a week after one dose of medicine or using the cream every day, however some women with recurrent thrush might need to take treatment for longer.
“Thrush is recurrent if you have four or more episodes in one year. In these cases taking anti-fungal medication by mouth is more effective,” Adib says. “Treatment can be taken for up to six months if necessary.”
For people with recurrent thrush, she also recommends taking a good vaginal probiotic and reducing the amount of sugar in your diet.