Posted in Genitals: A User's Guide

Unwelcome Visitors: Thrush

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Thrush is one of the causes of unusual vaginal discharge. Usually not ‘offensive’ smelling, it is often described as ‘cottage cheese’ – it has that kind of lumpy and white quality.  Or like the chest of the bird thrush, which is speckled and light compared to the rest of its body!

Unlike other causes of abnormal discharge, it is not a sexually transmitted infection.  STIs are spread from person to person, through direct contact such as skin-to-skin or bodily fluids (saliva, mucous, semen, blood, etc).  Thrush however, is an overgrowth of a type of fungal yeast (candida albicans) that ordinarily lives in other parts of the body, without causing an infection.

As well as the discharge, it is usually accompanied by an itching feeling.  Thrush proliferates in damp parts of the body.  As well as being able to cause infection in the vagina, in can therefore cultivate under the foreskin of the penis, or in skin folds around the rest of the body.

Vaginal thrush is treated with a cream, a pessary (i.e. a ‘tablet’ that comes with a device to be put straight in to the vagina), an oral tablet or combinations of these.  In the UK, this treatment is available ‘over the counter’ – you can go to a pharmacy and get it without a prescription.  However, it’s a good idea to go to your GP if it’s the first time you’ve had thrush.  They can then check that this is what it is.  It’s important to get further medical help if you’ve had regular infections or tried the treatment before and it isn’t working.  You may also need to see your doctor if you have other medical complications as well.

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References:

NHS, ‘Thrush in Men and Women’, accessed 14.11.2018.

Wikipedia, ‘Candida Albicans’, accessed online 14.11.2018.

Centre for Disease Control and Protection, ‘Candidiasis’, accessed 15.11.2018.

EMC, ‘Canestan Duo Patient Information Leaflet’, accessed online 15.11.2018.

 

Posted in Genitals: A User's Guide

It’s What’s Inside that Counts?

My weakest area at med school was definitely anatomy. I enjoyed it though. Each week, we would go to the anatomy suite where the cadavers were kept and I would learn another thing I was previously mistaken about. The relationship between what we see and understand on the outside and what and where it is on the inside is often not straightforward.

The stomach, for example, is not the low down bit of the abdomen people hold when they have ‘bellyache’ – that’s more like bowels. This is part of the gut, but with has a distinct and different function. What a lot of people think of as the ‘vagina’ (the passage from the external body to the womb) would actually be better described as the ‘vulva’. In my experience, these misconceptions are rife in ideas about our reproductive organs. Let’s have a look at some of the internal xx anatomy…

Vagina: a passage leading from the outside to internal parts. It’s made up of muscular, stretchy tissue that can deform and accommodate various things (tampons, fingers, foreign objects, a baby…).

Cervix: the lower bit of the womb. Roughly tube shaped and typically around 2-3cm long. It has a hole (the cervical ‘os’) which leads from the vagina to the womb. It can change shape, size and consistency under hormonal control – e.g. getting smaller and opening during childbirth.

Uterus: Or ‘womb’. This is where a baby can grow. Sits just behind the bladder in non-pregnancy. The lining of this cavity is called the ‘endometrium’. It is the endometrium thickening and then shedding that is experienced as periods. The top bit of the uterus is called the ‘fundus’.

Fallopian tubes: connect the uterus to the ovaries. Also called the ‘salpinges’ or a ‘salpinx’. Each one ends in a ‘fimbria’. This is a little fringe of tissue that helps convey eggs in to the tubes from the ovaries.

Ovaries: whitish lumps of tissue where eggs are released from. They also produce hormones so have an important endocrine role.

All of these structures sit quite low down in the abdomen. Sometimes problems that feel like they are coming from this reproductive tract can be mistaken for problems with the bowel and vice versa. We’ll have a look at some of these problems another time…