It’s time to talk about the stigma surrounding thrush
In 2017, it seemed we were brought no end of ridiculous trends involving the vagina. There was vulval highlighter, Vicks VapoRub as a thrush treatment (really not advisable), inserting wasp nests, “Passion Dust” glitter bombs, cleaning it with a cucumber…and many more. It will probably come as no surprise that none of these are recommended by health professionals, but the deluge of dodgy ‘gyno’ products did, at least, bring one good thing with it: women started talking about their genitals.
It has become more socially acceptable to talk about menstruation products, such as menstrual cups, period pants, and more. Awareness of gynaecological cancers, endometriosis, and PCOS was raised as more and more people began feeling comfortable discussing reproductive health publicly. And even sex education got its chance in the limelight, as parents were consulted in order to help the Department of Education develop new guidelines regarding its provision in schools.
As a medical herbalist who specialises in helping ladies with recurrent thrush, I welcome and encourage public conversations about women’s reproductive and sexual health. And I hope we’re getting to the point where we’re ready to talk about thrush – openly, and without shame.
So, what is thrush?
Put simply, thrush is an opportunistic fungal infection in the vagina, normally involving a fungus called Candida albicans. Thrush means that there is an overgrowth of this (or another) natural fungus that normally inhabits this environment.
Common symptoms include itching and irritation of the vulva and vagina; pain around the vulva and inside the vagina; vaginal discharge, which is white and can have the consistency of cottage cheese; pain on having sex; cystitis-type symptoms such as pain on urination; and red and inflamed skin around the vulva, with possible bleeding.
Lesser known, anecdotal, symptoms of thrush include anxiety, depression, loss of libido, and a feeling of disconnection from your sexual self and your pelvic area.
There are a number of reasons that cause the fungal overgrowth and a flare-up of symptoms, and it is always advisable to get a diagnosis from your doctor to confirm that it is thrush you are dealing with, and to rule out any underlying conditions.
Sadly, the statistics are staggering: 70% of all women will have thrush at least once in their lives. Another 5% will experience recurrent thrush, which is classed as having a flare up four or more times a year. Some women will get thrush a couple of times a year, and some might have it on a near-constant basis. That amounts to a huge amount of women who are affected by the condition.
One of the most startling facts that most women I have seen have shared with me is that they have often never spoken to a single person about their thrush. Not a friend, not a partner, and not even their GP or a health professional.
Many of us feel forced to suffer in silence and negotiate our own ways of dealing with the low mood — which in some cases could be depression — that can come about from having to deal with an on-going, seemingly incurable condition alone. It’s time we broke down that shame.
A link with depression
When it comes to a link between thrush and low mood, or even depression, I have seen two different reasons for this among those who have come to visit me.
Firstly, depression or low mood can come about because of the often intolerable nature of relentless flare-ups; the burning, the itching, the pain, and the inflammation. It can make walking uncomfortable, urinating painful, and even the thought of intercourse unbearable. These issues combined can make day-to-day life, and relationships with others, extremely difficult, and low mood or symptoms of depression can be common responses. The symptoms are, quite simply, preventing you from living your life.
Secondly, there is some evidence to suggest that depression can occur as a symptom of thrush in itself, as a side effect of systemic Candida overgrowth. In this case, it can cause what has been described as mental fog, and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
I can’t emphasise enough how useful it can be to raise your concerns with a herbalist, alongside allopathic treatment from your doctor, if you think any of this is of relevance to your own situation, even if you’re unsure.
Don’t start or stop any medication, herbal or otherwise, including anti-depressants, without the advice from your doctor, but don’t be scared or ashamed to bring up any worries you may have.
What can we do to get rid of the stigma?
Just as Bodyform has finally made a sanitary towel advert showing red ‘blood’, as opposed to a nondescript blue liquid, we need our own form of taboo-breaking. I want the revolution to start right here, right now, with me and with you. I want us to talk about how thrush affects us, how it makes us feel, what makes us feel good, and what makes us feel bad.
Into the Wylde, founded by herbalist Kathie Bishop, has a range of resources available online specifically for women with thrush. As a holistic company, we exist to help each woman find her own safe and healthy method to conquer thrush, and reconnect with her sexuality.
And if you want to learn more, or simply join a forum of women with recurring thrush to exchange tips, advice, empathy, and more, then join our Facebook community group and help us continue to break down stigma. We offer a safe space for mutual support — and hopefully we can help you get rid of thrush for good.