Thrush affects millions of women worldwide

Thrush is a common problem. But a new research review by University of Manchester experts confirms how widespread a problem it is, with around 138 million women thought to be affected worldwide.

Of those, around 1.2 million women live in the UK, the report in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal suggests. Chinese, Indian and American women have the highest rates of thrush, at 29.1 million, 23.6 million and nine million respectively. Meanwhile in Ghana, Saudi Arabia and Yemen the rates are the lowest.

Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of a fungus called candida. And while it’s usually harmless, it can be uncomfortable and may also have a significant effect on your day-to-day life.

In women, the most common symptoms of vaginal thrush include:

  • Itching
  • Soreness
  • Pain or stinging during urination or sex
  • A thick, creamy or watery white discharge

“Recurrent vulvovaginal thrush is common, debilitating and complex,” says the review’s lead researcher Dr Riina Rautemaa-Richardson.

“Thrush is often thought of as an embarrassing problem women should accept, rather than a medical problem which needs to be dealt with. For millions of women, it can have a massive impact on quality of life.”

With treatment, says Dr Rautemaa-Richardson, women can regain their quality of life. In most cases thrush can be treated easily and quickly with over-the-counter remedies including creams, pessaries and oral capsules. These treatments tend to work fast, and you should see an improvement in your symptoms within a week.

When to see your GP

However, if any of the following apply, see your GP or go to a sexual health clinic for advice:

  • You’re having thrush for the first time
  • You’re 16 or younger or 60 or older
  • Over-the-counter treatments haven’t worked
  • You keep getting thrush (more than twice in six months)
  • You’re pregnant or breastfeeding
  • You have a weakened immune system

Not just for women

Men are affected by thrush too, with symptoms including irritation and redness around the head of the penis and under the foreskin, an unpleasant smell and a thick, white discharge. Both men and women can take certain steps to ease the discomfort of thrush and help stop it recurring – here’s what the NHS recommends:

  • Use water and an emollient product to wash your vagina or penis instead of soap or shower gel (ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable prduct)
  • Take showers instead of baths
  • Wear cotton underwear and avoid tight underwear or tights
  • Avoid sex until the infection has cleared up
  • Don’t use douches or deodorants on your vagina or penis

For information and advice about over-the-counter thrush medications, have a chat with your local Careway pharmacist. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.