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Pain or discomfort in the genital area may indicate either a yeast infection or a urinary tract infection. Although both types of infection have similar prevention methods, their causes, symptoms, and treatment differ.
People should seek professional medical attention if they believe that they have either type of infection.
In this article, we discuss the differences between yeast infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs), including their symptoms, duration, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Yeast infections and UTIs cause distinct symptoms that affect different parts of the body.
Yeast infections usually cause pain and itching of the genitals and a thick, curd-like discharge.
UTIs specifically affect the lower urinary tract, which includes the urethra and bladder. Without treatment, a UTI can spread to the kidneys, causing more severe symptoms and potential complications.
|Yeast infection symptoms||UTI symptoms|
|pain when urinating or having sex||pain or burning sensation when urinating|
|burning, itching, and swelling of the vagina and vulva||frequent urge to urinate|
|thick, white vaginal discharge that has no odor||pain or tenderness of the lower abdomen, back, or sides|
|cloudy or discolored urine that can contain blood|
|urine that has a strong odor|
In severe cases, a UTI can also cause fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting.
The duration of both infections depends on two factors: the severity of the infection and the choice of treatment.
In general, the symptoms of an uncomplicated UTI — one that has not spread to the kidneys — go away 1–2 days after starting antibiotic treatment. However, a complicated UTI can take several days to a couple of weeks to treat.
A mild yeast infection is likely to clear up more quickly than a severe one. The duration of treatment for yeast infections varies from just a few days to up to 6 months, although the latter is rare.
Yeast infections and UTIs have distinct causes and risk factors.
According to a 2015 article, UTIs are most common among older males, young boys, and females of all ages.
An estimated 60% of females and 12% of males will have at least one UTI during their lifetime, according to the Urology Care Foundation.
UTIs occur when bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, or Staphylococcus saprophyticus, enter the urinary tract.
Risk factors for a UTI can include:
- having sex
- using certain contraceptive methods, such as diaphragms or spermicide
- wiping from back to front after a bowel movement
- having kidney or bladder stones
- urinating without emptying the bladder
- having a urinary catheter
Females develop UTIs more often than males because the female urethra is much shorter, which allows bacteria near the vagina to enter the bladder more easily.
UTIs in children
According to the Urology Care Foundation, up to 8% of girls and 2% of boys develop UTIs. They also state that young children have a higher risk than adults of kidney damage from UTIs.
Young children may experience UTIs due to a condition called vesicoureteral reflux, which is most common among infants and children, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Vesicoureteral reflux can occur as a result of structural abnormalities of the ureters.
Normally, urine flows through the ureters from the kidneys into the bladder. A small piece of tissue called the flap valve blocks urine from flowing backward from the bladder to the ureters.
In vesicoureteral reflux, urine from the bladder may reenter one or both ureters and even flow back into the kidneys.
Vesicoureteral reflux rarely causes long term complications for children.
Yeast infections occur when there is an overgrowth of Candida, a type of fungus that lives inside the body, in a moist area of the skin. Typical areas where yeast infections may develop include:
- the mouth
- the throat
- the gut
- the vagina
Vaginal yeast infections are very common. According to the Office on Women’s Health, about 75% of all females will have at least one yeast infection during their lifetime.
Risk factors for yeast infections include:
- having a weakened immune system
- taking antibiotics or having recently completed a course
- being pregnant
- having uncontrolled diabetes
- using hormonal birth control that contains high doses of estrogen
- using douches or vaginal sprays
- wearing tight underwear and clothes that create a warm, moist environment
Pregnant women may have an increased risk of developing both types of infection. They should contact their OB-GYN immediately if they believe that they may have a UTI or yeast infection.
Untreated UTIs and yeast infections can harm the fetus and may result in complications during and after delivery.
UTIs and yeast infections require a medical professional to diagnose and treat them.
If a person leaves either infection untreated, it can progress, causing worse symptoms and additional complications. For example, an untreated UTI may result in a severe kidney infection.
Doctors use different diagnostic methods for yeast infections and UTIs.
The diagnosis of a UTI requires a urine sample. At the doctor’s office, a person will fill a small cup with urine. The doctor will send this to a laboratory where technicians will test it for the presence of bacteria.
A doctor can diagnose a yeast infection by carrying out a physical examination of the affected area and a culture test.
During a culture test, a doctor will use a cotton swab to collect a sample from the affected area and then send it to a laboratory for testing. The lab technicians will examine it for the Candida fungus.
UTIs and yeast infections require different treatments.
UTI treatment usually involves antibiotics, which clear up bacterial infections. The class and dosage of antibiotic treatment depend on the type of infection and the person’s medical history.
Although symptoms usually go away shortly after a person starts taking antibiotics, they should complete the entire course of medication that the doctor prescribed.
People can treat yeast infections in several different ways. Mild yeast infections may respond to over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medications, which are available in the following forms:
- oral tablets
OTC antifungal medications are available to purchase in stores or online.
Severe yeast infections might require a prescription-strength antifungal oral tablet called fluconazole.
Although OTC and prescription medications can successfully treat UTIs and yeast infections, some people may choose alternative or natural therapies instead.
Eating natural, unsweetened yogurt that contains Lactobacillus acidophilus may help prevent yeast infections.
Unsweetened cranberry juice is a common home remedy for UTIs. However, in a 2013 article, researchers reviewed 24 studies and concluded that cranberry juice is less effective than earlier research indicated and that it demonstrates a limited ability to prevent UTIs.
Mild UTIs and yeast infections are easily treatable and may even resolve on their own. However, people should still consult a doctor before attempting to treat either infection at home.
Currently, not enough scientific evidence exists to support the exclusive use of natural remedies for treating UTIs or yeast infections.
Steps that people can take to prevent UTIs and yeast infections include:
- staying hydrated
- urinating when the need arises and not holding it in
- wiping from front to back after a bowel movement
- urinating before and after sex
- avoiding the use of douches, vaginal sprays, and scented feminine hygiene products
- changing out of swimsuits and exercise attire as soon as possible
- changing female sanitary products regularly
- avoiding tight fitting or restrictive clothing
Although UTIs and yeast infections are common, they cause symptoms that are similar to those of other conditions. As a result, people may sometimes mistake one condition for another.
Conditions that cause symptoms similar to those of UTIs and yeast infections include the following:
- Interstitial cystitis (IC) is a bladder condition that causes frequent urination and chronic pain near the bladder.
- Ovarian cysts are benign growths that develop on the ovaries. Ovarian cysts can cause uncomfortable bloating, pain in the lower back, and a frequent urge to urinate.
- Bacterial vaginosis refers to an overgrowth of bacteria in and around the vagina. It can cause painful urination, itching, and odor.
UTIs and yeast infections affect the lower pelvic and genital regions. However, these conditions have distinct causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Yeast infections occur due to an overgrowth of the Candida fungus, while UTIs result from bacterial infections in the urinary tract.
Yeast infections cause itching, pain, and odorless vaginal discharge. UTIs, on the other hand, cause urinary symptoms, such as a frequent urge to urinate and painful urination.
Both types of infection require medical attention, but they are easily treatable. Treatment typically involves antifungals for yeast infections and antibiotics for UTIs.
People can often prevent yeast infections and UTIs by staying hydrated, urinating frequently, and using proper hygiene techniques.