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What’s the difference?
If you experience discomfort in your genital area or when you urinate, you may have an infection. Two types of infections that commonly affect these areas are urinary tract infections (UTIs) and yeast infections. These types of infections commonly occur in women, but men can get them too. While both are distinct conditions, some of their symptoms, causes, and prevention methods are similar. Both should be seen by a doctor for treatment, and both are curable.
Though UTIs and yeast infections are very different, it’s possible to have both at the same time. In fact, treating a UTI with antibiotics can sometimes lead to a yeast infection.
UTIs and yeast infections are different infections. Their symptoms may be in the same general area, but they’re distinct.
UTI symptoms typically affect urination. They may cause a burning sensation when you urinate, or you may feel a need to urinate more frequently. Yeast infection symptoms may include pain when urinating, but you’ll also experience pain and itchiness in the affected area. Vaginal yeast infections also typically cause a thick, milky discharge.
|Symptoms of UTI||Symptoms of yeast infection|
|pain and burning when urinating||pain when urinating or having sex|
|feeling the need to urinate more often than usual, even when you don’t actually have to relieve yourself||itchiness in the affected area (such as your vagina and vulva)|
|awakening from sleep to go to the bathroom||swelling in the affected area (for a vaginal yeast infection, that would be in the vagina and vulva)|
|discolored or cloudy urine that may be red or pink from blood||pain in the affected area|
|foul-smelling urine||having unusual, generally odorless, vaginal discharge that is thick and milky looking (for vaginal yeast infections)|
|fever or chills, vomiting, or nausea, which may all be signs of a more serious infection|
|pain or feeling of pressure in your lower abdomen, back, and sides|
|pain in your pelvis, especially if you’re a woman|
UTIs that affect the lower part of your urinary system are less serious. UTIs nearer to your kidneys can cause more complications and stronger symptoms.
UTIs occur when you get bacteria into your urinary system. Your urinary system includes your:
You don’t need to be sexually active to experience a UTI. Some things that can cause bacteria to build up in your urethra and lead to a UTI include:
- contact with stool, which contains bacteria, such as E. Coli
- exposure to STIs
- the use of spermicides and diaphragms during sex
- not emptying your bladder regularly or putting off urinating frequently
Yeast infections occur when too much of the fungus known as Candida builds up in a moist area on your skin, causing an infection. Your body may contain this fungus already, but you’ll experience adverse side effects and an infection when it builds up on your skin. You can get this condition even if you’re not sexually active. Some causes of vaginal yeast infections include:
- changes to your immune system caused by stress, illness, pregnancy, and other factors
- medications, such as birth control, antibiotics, and steroids, among others
- high blood sugar (such as with poorly managed diabetes)
- wearing tight or restrictive underwear and pants that create a moist environment in the vaginal area
UTIs are common, with 10 in 25 women, and 3 in 25 men experiencing a UTI in their lifetime. Women experience UTIs more commonly than men because a woman’s urethra is shorter than a man’s, and closer to the vagina and anus, resulting in more exposure to bacteria.
You may also be more at risk for a UTI if you:
- are sexually active
- are pregnant
- are currently using or have used antibiotics recently
- are obese
- have gone through menopause
- have given birth to multiple children
- have diabetes
- have or have had a kidney stone or another blockage in your urinary tract
- have a weakened immune system
Women experience yeast infections more frequently than men, and 75 percent of women will get a yeast infection in their lifetime. Yeast infections commonly occur in the vagina and vulva, but you can also get a yeast infection on your breast if you’re breast feeding and in other moist areas of the body, like the mouth. A vaginal yeast infection is not a sexually transmitted infection, but in rare occasions you can pass it to your partner during sex.
Your risk of contracting a vaginal yeast infection increases if:
- you’re between puberty and menopause
- you’re pregnant
- you use hormonal birth control
- you have diabetes and don’t manage high blood sugar effectively
- you’re using or have recently used antibiotics or steroids
- you use products in your vaginal area like douches
- you have a compromised immune system
Both UTIs and yeast infections should be reviewed and diagnosed by your doctor to prevent them from getting worse. UTIs that are untreated could lead to a more serious kidney infection. Yeast infections may also be something more serious, or the symptoms may actually be from another condition, such as a sexually transmitted infection.
UTIs and yeast infections are diagnosed differently.
A UTI is diagnosed with a urine sample. You will be asked to fill a small cup with urine midway through your stream. A laboratory will test the urine for certain bacteria to diagnose the condition.
A yeast infection will be diagnosed after taking a swab of the affected area. A laboratory will test the swab for the Candida fungus. Your doctor will also conduct a physical examination of the affected area to check for swelling and other symptoms.
Your doctor may conduct tests for both a UTI and a yeast infection if they suspect you have one infection or the other but cannot diagnose it from a physical examination.
Both UTIs and yeast infections are easily treatable.
You will receive antibiotics for a UTI. You may experience relief from symptoms after taking the antibiotics for a few days. You’ll need to finish the entire round of antibiotics to prevent the UTI from returning.
There are also other medications available for treatment that are not antibiotic based.
Yeast infections require antifungal medications. These can be prescribed or purchased without a prescription and are available in a variety of treatments. You may take an oral medication, use a topical substance, or even insert a suppository. The duration of treatment varies and can range anywhere from one dose to multiple doses over a week’s time. Just like UTIs, you should take the yeast infection medication for the entire recommended duration to prevent the condition from coming back.
It’s possible that you have recurring UTIs and yeast infections that require a more aggressive treatment. Your doctor will outline these treatments if you experience multiple infections over a short course of time.
Both UTIs and yeast infections should clear up after taking medications within days or a few weeks. You must make sure to take prescribed or over-the-counter medication as directed for the entire recommended length of time to prevent the infection from returning.
You may be able to prevent both UTIs and yeast infections by practicing good hygiene and making changes to your wardrobe. Here are some prevention tips:
- Wipe from front to back after a bowel movement.
- Wear cotton underwear.
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing around your genital area, such as pantyhose and restrictive pants.
- Change out of wet swimsuits quickly.
- Do not douche or use vaginal spray or deodorizers near your genitals.
- Avoid scented feminine hygiene products.
Further prevention of UTIs include:
- using the bathroom frequently
- washing regularly
- regularly drinking lots of fluid
- urinating before and after sex
It’s also possible that drinking cranberry juice can prevent UTIs. The research results are mixed. Make sure to choose a sugar-free version. If the juice is too tart, you can water it down to make the juice more palatable.
You may also be able to reduce your chances of contracting a yeast infection if you:
- avoid hot baths and hot tubs
- change your feminine products often
- control your blood sugar if you have diabetes
Both UTIs and yeast infections are common among women. Men can also experience these infections. There are many ways to prevent these conditions from occurring.
See your doctor right away if you suspect you have a UTI or yeast infection. You doctor can use tests to diagnose your condition and help you get treated right away. Both conditions can be cured within a few days or weeks.