Women's health: Doctor or pharmacist?


Women can experience a variety of health problems and it can sometimes be unclear whether they'll get better on their own. You may also be unsure whether you should visit your pharmacist or Doctor for advice. In this guide, we’ll highlight some common women’s health issues, and suggest who to see for help.


Thrush (or candidiasis) is a condition caused by overgrowth of a yeast from the candida family. It's more common in times of hormonal change or after a course of antibiotics. It's also more common in women who suffer from diabetes and other conditions that can weaken the immune system. 

Thrush can cause itching and pain around the vagina and vulva. Women with thrush often get a thick, white discharge from the vagina. Men can get thrush too, but it's less common. Thrush isn't considered to be a sexually transmitted infection but it can be triggered by sex and can sometimes be passed on through sex.

If you think you could have thrush, your pharmacist may be able to provide treatment. Thrush can be treated with creams, pessaries (tablets inserted into the vagina), or tablets you.

Ask your Ask your pharmacist for advice on what treatment might be suitable for you.

You should see your doctor if you have any of the following features:

• You have symptoms of thrush for the first time

• You're pregnant or breastfeeding

• You're younger than 16 or older than 60

• You have diabetes or another condition that weakens the immune system, or you take immunosuppressant medicines

• You feel unwell, have tummy pain or vaginal bleeding with your thrush symptoms

• You have had thrush before and treatment has not worked, or this is your third episode of thrush in the last six months

If your thrush symptoms don't improve with an over-the-counter treatment, or you're worried about your symptoms, see your Doctor.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

BV is another common cause of unusual vaginal discharge, brought about by an imbalance of the normal bacteria of the vagina. It doesn't usually cause pain or itching. It's related to the pH, or acidity level, of the vagina, rather than anything that is 'caught' or 'passed on'.

Because it can cause a watery-grey discharge that may have a fishy odour, some women may feel that it's related to poor hygiene. Excessive cleaning of the vagina, particularly with soaps or bubble-baths, can actually worsen BV symptoms, as these change the pH of the vagina. 

There are a number of risk factors for BV, such as being sexually active, changing sexual partners and using a copper coil for contraception. However, BV is not a sexually transmitted infection and as many as one in three women will experience it at some stage.

There are products your pharmacist can give you to help alter the pH of the vagina to help get things back in balance, and to temporarily help relieve symptoms. If your symptoms don’t improve or get worse, make sure you visit your Doctor or sexual health clinic, as you may need treatment with antibiotics. It’s also important to get treated if you're pregnant and have BV symptoms.


Cystitis is the inflammation of the bladder, often caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI). It's most common in women, particularly those who are sexually active.

Symptoms of cystitis include burning or stinging when passing urine, and you may feel you need to go to the toilet more frequently.

Mild cases of cystitis often get better without treatment but can sometimes turn into an infection, which requires antibiotics.

See your doctor if you feel unwell, are unsure you have cystitis, have tummy or back pain, are feverish with symptoms of a UTI, or your symptoms don’t start to improve within three days - as you may need antibiotics. Your pharmacist can advise whether simple cystitis treatments over the counter will help ease your symptoms or if you need to see your doctor.