Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/25/2020
If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a yeast infection, you know what real discomfort is. Both are miserable and maybe a little embarrassing.
What these two conditions have in common is the utter misery you’re in when you have them.
But they’re more different than alike. Knowing how to tell the difference between a UTI and a yeast infection can save you some trial and error and, ultimately, some discomfort in the process.
TL;DR: What You Need to Know
The short version is this: while both a UTI and yeast infections can cause pain and discomfort, a UTI is characterized by the strong urge to urinate but difficulty emptying your bladder, and a yeast infection is characterized by a clumpy white vaginal discharge. A UTI requires antibiotics from a physician while a yeast infection can generally be treated with over-the-counter anti-fungal medication.
The symptoms of these two conditions provide the first clues to tell them apart. While they may have some symptoms in common, there are others that stand out as unique.
A urinary tract infection is characterized by: pain or burning sensation during urination, feeling the urge to urinate more often but having a hard time emptying your bladder and a bad smell to your urine.
The urge to urinate will never seem to go away with a UTI, but when you sit on the toilet, you may only experience frustrating painful drips of relief. With serious UTIs, you could also experience a low-grade fever and pain in your lower back.
Vaginal yeast infections are primarily characterized by itching, burning and a white clumpy discharge, similar to cottage cheese. Your vulva and vagina may be swollen, red and sore. And if you attempt to have sex, it’ll likely be painful.
To make it clear, the key differences here are: UTI symptoms are primarily an increasing urge to urinate with no relief, while yeast infections cause an itchiness, burning and clumpy white discharge.
UTIs are bacterial, where yeast infections are caused by a fungal overgrowth. But the differences don’t stop there.
A UTI is caused when bacteria travel from outside of your body into the urinary tract. This can happen in a variety of ways, and understanding how it happens may be able to help you prevent UTIs in the future.
Sex increases your risk of UTIs, as bacteria from the rectum can find it’s way to the bladder easily.
Women who use diaphragms have a greater risk of UTIs
A compromised immune system can lead to greater incidence of UTIs
Structural abnormalities in your urinary tract can put you at a greater risk of infections
Wiping from the back to the front while on the toilet could introduce bacteria into the urinary tract
Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of candida, a type of yeast or fungus. This fungus is found in your body at all times, but sometimes it can multiply and cause problems.
Causes and/or things that put you at greater risk of candida are generally things that prevent your body from being able to naturally control candida production. Those include:
Having a compromised immune system
Being on birth control pills
Contracting it from a partner with a yeast infection
Diagnosis and treatment of these two conditions is quite different. Where you need a healthcare professional to diagnose your UTI and provide antibiotics, in most cases you can diagnose your own yeast infection and find treatments at the local drug store.
If you have reason to suspect you have a urinary tract infection, contact your healthcare provider.
Left untreated, the infection can worsen and spread into your bladder and kidneys. Your doctor will take a urine sample and look for signs of infection. If they confirm you have a UTI, you’ll generally be prescribed a short round of antibiotics.
The good news: once you begin antibiotics, the horrible symptoms of your UTI will begin fading within just a few doses.
If your infection is severe, however, the medicine may have to be delivered via IV in a hospital — incentive to seek out the help of your healthcare provider the minute you begin experiencing symptoms.
If you have the telltale signs of a yeast infection — burning and itching with a clumpy white discharge — you can find an anti-fungal yeast infection medicine at the store.
These medications are typically creams or suppositories that are inserted to your vagina.
If you have any doubts about your diagnosis, however, contact your healthcare provider. Treating yourself for a yeast infection when it turns out you have something more serious is asking for troubles and delaying the right treatment.
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