Discomfort and pain in your genital area can be a scary thing—especially when you’re not sure what it is or why it’s happening. Quite often, the discomfort and pain is the result of a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a vaginal yeast infection (sometimes known as vaginal Candidiasis). Chances are, you have heard of and may have even experienced one or both of these highly common conditions. What you may not know is the differences between them.
Although both types of infection may seem similar, their causes, symptoms, and treatments are quite different. A UTI is a bacterial infection that occurs in any part of the urinary tract, which contains the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. A yeast infection is a fungal infection that affects the genitalia.
It is important to know the differences between a UTI and a yeast infection so that you or someone in your care can get the right treatment.
Symptoms of UTI vs Yeast Infection
To put it simply, UTIs and yeast infections are different infections. Their symptoms may be in the same general area, but they are very different presentations.
UTI symptoms typically affect urination, while yeast infection symptoms include pain and itchiness in your vagina and vulva. Here is a look at the symptoms of each infection.
- Intense, frequent urge to urinate
- Burning sensation or pain when urinating
- Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
- Blood in the urine
- Pain in the side, lower abdomen, or back
- Lower abdominal pain
- Nausea and/or vomiting
The latter symptoms of a UTI—nausea, vomiting, and fever—are typically associated with more serious kidney infection. If you are experiencing those more severe symptoms, seek in-person medical care as soon as possible to get proper treatment.
Yeast infection symptoms
- Intense burning on the outside of your body during urination (due to irritated skin)
- Pain or burning during sexual activity
- Itching, irritation, and swelling of the vagina and vulva
- Thick, odorless vaginal discharge that is white (looks like cottage cheese) to yellow-green in color
UTIs are caused by bacteria getting into and building up in the urinary system. Yeast infections develop when a fungus builds up on a moist area of skin, such as the genitals. For each, this can happen in a variety of ways.
Causes of a UTI
UTIs are generally caused by bacteria (most commonly Escherichia coli or E. coli) that enter the body through the urethra and then target the urinary tract.
Women’s physiology puts them at a higher risk of getting a UTI compared to men. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 50% of all women will experience a UTI during their lifetime.
This is because a woman’s urethra is shorter and closer to the anus, making it easier for bacteria to travel from the anus or vagina, through the urethra, to the bladder and kidneys. UTIs can often be the result of:
- Wiping from back to front after a bowel movement (this cause is more common in children)
- Abnormalities in the shape of your urinary tract
- Sexual activity
- Contraceptive methods such as diaphragms and spermicides
- Urinating without fully emptying the bladder or holding it in
Causes of yeast infections
Yeast infections are caused by a fungus, most commonly candida albicans. Candida normally lives in your vagina and other places on your body without incident.
However, it has the potential to cause an infection when able to grow and multiply. When this happens, the ‘good’ bacteria called lactobacillus are no longer able to effectively keep candida growth under control. This can occur due to:
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- An impaired immune system (immunocompromised)
- Hormonal imbalance
- Wearing tight-fitting or wet clothing
Can a yeast infection cause a UTI?
Yeast infections are not known to cause UTIs, but taking antibiotics to treat a UTI can sometimes cause a yeast infection. It is also possible to have both infections at the same time.
Who Gets UTIs and Yeast Infections?
While UTIs and yeast infections are more common in women, men and children can also experience both types of infections.
For men, common causes of urinary tract infections are kidney stones and enlarged prostates. When it comes to yeast infections, men can also experience a condition known as balanitis, or inflammation of the head of the penis. Uncircumcised men are more susceptible to yeast infections and balanitis. Yeast infections are not sexually transmitted between partners.
Children are more likely to experience a UTI than a yeast infection, although yeast infections are common among growing girls. Symptoms are typically the same as adults and will require a visit to a pediatrician for proper diagnosis and treatment.
How Long Does Each Infection Last?
The severity of the infection and the treatment method determine how long both a yeast infection and a UTI lasts. A UTI generally goes away 1-2 days after starting antibiotics. A complicated UTI, on the other hand, can take several days to weeks to fully treat. Similarly, a mild yeast infection can go away after a few days.
Diagnosing UTIs vs. Yeast Infections
To diagnose either of these infections, your doctor will start by asking about your symptoms and any previous infections. They may also ask if you have any concerns about sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
If you have had a UTI or a yeast infection before, let your doctor know if the symptoms you have right now are similar or different.
Diagnosing a UTI
Typically, a doctor can diagnose a UTI just by hearing about your symptoms and taking a medical history.
If the cause of your symptoms is unclear, the next step is to test your urine. These urine tests will confirm if you have a UTI and what type of bacteria is causing it. After all, some bacteria are resistant to certain types of antibiotics.
Diagnosing a yeast infection
An experienced doctor can often diagnose a yeast infection based on the history and symptoms you discuss. If you are seeing a provider in person, your doctor will examine you to evaluate the discharge and take a sample of vaginal fluid with a cotton swab to send to the lab. These lab tests can also be used to identify other causes of discharge, such as STIs.
Treatment for UTIs vs. Yeast Infections
UTIs and yeast infections both require treatment. Avoiding treatment can lead to further, more serious complications. Luckily, both infections are relatively easy to treat.
Once your doctor diagnoses a UTI, the standard line of treatment is an antibiotic prescription. The type of antibiotic depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection and how severe the infection is upon diagnosis.
You should start taking the antibiotic immediately and expect to begin feeling some relief within a few days. It is important to finish the entire round of prescribed antibiotics, even if your symptoms dissipate earlier. This will prevent the UTI from coming back.
There are also home remedies that can be used to treat your UTI symptoms, though these should not replace antibiotic treatment entirely. Things like cranberry juice, herbal supplements, and lots of water can ward off your symptoms and aid in faster treatment. You can read more about home remedies for UTI here.
Yeast Infection treatment
Yeast infection treatment requires an antifungal medication. These medications can be prescribed or purchased over-the-counter (OTC). The medications come in several forms, such as creams, ointments, tablets, and suppositories. The treatment time can range from a day to a week. It is important to complete the entire treatment in order to completely clear up the infection.
While UTIs and yeast infections can often be caused by factors out of your control, there are some things you can do to make yourself or someone in your care less susceptible to these infections.
Being aware of the risk factors may help you change your behavior and, possibly, prevent future UTIs. Here are some UTI prevention tips:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Urinate regularly (don’t hold in urine)
- Do not use douches or deodorant sprays, which may irritate the urethra, in the genital area
- Wipe from front to back after urination and bowel movements
- Urinate before and after sex
Preventing yeast infections
Yeast infections are rarely serious, but the symptoms are uncomfortable. You can help prevent them with these simple tips:
- Practice good hygiene by keeping moist areas of the skin clean
- Use a mild soap
- Wear underwear made from natural materials such as cotton
- Change out of wet swimsuits and exercise attire as soon as possible
When to See a Doctor
If you experience any pain, itching, burning, or general discomfort in your genitals, contact a doctor. Both infections can be the result of something more serious and can lead to further complications when left untreated. It is important for your doctor to diagnose the infection and prevent it from worsening.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable UTI treatment with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms using our AI-driven symptom checker and, if needed, text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s board-certified, U.S.-based doctors can provide a treatment plan and prescription to resolve your symptoms as soon as possible.