Researchers have estimated that cases of recurrent Thrush may increase, affecting 158 million people by 2030. With Thrush and STIs presenting extremely similar symptoms – how will you know which one is causing you discomfort?

How to tell the difference between Thrush and an STI:

Thrush is a common yeast infection that affects both men and women. It is caused by a fungus called candida which is usually harmless. The fungus grows in warm, moist conditions – developing if there is an imbalance of bacteria.

Even though Thrush is not recognised as an STI, symptoms can be similar to that of a sexually transmitted infection – making it difficult to know which one is causing your genital discomfort. Similarly, both Thrush and STIs may not present any symptoms even if you are infected.

ThrushSexually Transmitted Infection
Fungus Bacteria, Virus or Protozoa
A result of imbalanced bacterial populations, skin irritation or damage, antibiotics, poorly controlled diabetes, weakened immune system, pregnancy or if you have been through menopause.
Sexual activity can sometimes trigger or pass on Thrush.
A result of unprotected sexual activity including oral, vaginal and anal

In some cases, direct skin-to-skin contact is enough to pass on an STI.
Symptoms of Thrush can include:
– White discharge from the vagina or penis (like cottage cheese)
– Genital discomfort such as itching, redness
– Pain or burning when urinating
– An unpleasant odour
– Soreness or stinging during sex
Men might find it difficult to pull back foreskin
STI symptoms may consist of:
– Unusual discharge from the vagina or penis
– Cuts, blisters, ulcers or lesions
– Genital or anal discomfort
– Pain or burning when urinating
– An unpleasant odour
– Abnormal bleeding
– Pelvic inflammatory disease
– Increased need to urinate more often
– Lower abdominal pain
Treatment consists of antifungal medicine and creams that can help relieve irritation.Depending on the STI you test positive for, antibiotics, antiviral or antiretroviral medication may be prescribed by a doctor.
Thrush can clear up within a week with appropriate medication. In some cases, recurrent Thrush may require a longer course of treatment that can last up to six months.Some sexually transmitted infections require long-term management. Symptoms of some STIs can be treated by surgical processes or over-the-counter creams.

Telling the difference between a Thrush infection and an STI is difficult. Many of the symptoms are the same and with STIs there are frequently no symptoms at all. If you have had any kind of sexual encounter which you think might have put you at risk, then book an STI screen to make sure you don’t have an infection. If your test is negative you will feel happy and relieved, and if it’s positive, you can get treated and suffer no long-term ill effects.

Mike Asher, Co-Founder at Better2Know

Preventing Thrush

To prevent Thrush from reoccurring or to ease symptoms you can:

  • Wear cotton underwear
  • Avoid sex until Thrush has cleared
  • Use a condom to prevent transmission to your partner
  • Taking showers instead of baths
  • Use water or emollient body washes to clean the vagina or penis
  • Dry the area properly after washing.

Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections

Abstinence is the best way to prevent STIs. If you do engage in sexual activities, you should practice safe sex. You can do this through the consistent and correct use of barrier methods such as condoms and dental dams.

Where can I get treatment?

Sexual health clinics or private GUM clinics can provide treatment for thrush or sexually transmitted infections following a positive result. Your doctor or nurse may examine the vagina or penis and take a swab of discharge to test for infections. If you are concerned about any symptoms, or your sexual health more generally, you should get tested at your earliest convenience.


[1] University of Manchester: New figures show 138 million women suffer from recurrent thrush

[2] NHS: Sexual Health

[3] NHS: Thrush in men and women

[4] Share Care: Sexual Health – STI symptoms that need checking

[5] WebMD: Do I Have a Yeast Infection, or Something Else?

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