How can I tell if I have a UTI or yeast infection?

UTIs and yeast infections are similar conditions that require different treatment approaches

It happens—something doesn’t feel quite right down there. Maybe the urge to go to the bathroom is happening more frequently. Or maybe itching and vaginal discharge are occurring. Is it a urinary tract infection or a yeast infection? It can be hard to tell. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and yeast infections are common conditions that can cause discomfort. Although they are different types of infections, they have some similar symptoms, which may make it difficult to pinpoint which infection is taking place. The good news is that regardless of which type of infection, there are various treatments to help to feel better soon. 

Do I have a UTI or yeast infection?

A UTI is an infection of the urinary system. This can include the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. A UTI is caused when bacteria enter the urinary tract. This can happen during sexual intercourse or when bacteria from the rectum get into the urinary tract. 

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  • A simple UTI occurs in healthy people with normal urinary tracts and can usually be treated with a short course of antibiotics. Most women have simple UTIs.
  • A complicated UTI can occur in patients with abnormal urinary tracts or when the infection is more severe. A complicated UTI may require a longer course of antibiotics and may require treatment in the hospital. A kidney infection is an example of a complicated UTI. UTIs in men or children are usually considered complicated. 

A vaginal yeast infection is caused by fungi called Candida (most often Candida albicans). It can happen when the normal balance of healthy bacteria is disrupted—for example, when taking antibiotics. It can also be caused by certain feminine products or wearing clothing that is tight-fitting and non-breathable. Also, staying in wet clothes or a bathing suit after exercising or swimming can contribute to yeast infections. 

UTI vs. yeast infection symptoms

Common UTI symptoms are more related to urinating. There may be a constant feeling to urinate, even if there’s nothing in the bladder. Frequent urination accompanied by pain or a burning sensation during urination may be experienced when going to the bathroom. 

Women with a vaginal yeast infection, also known as vaginal candidiasis, may experience vaginal discharge that appears thick and white, like cottage cheese. The vaginal and vulva areas may feel itchy and/or sore, and there may be pain during sexual intercourse. More serious infections may involve redness, swelling, and cracks in the wall of the vagina.

Comparing UTI vs. yeast infection symptoms

Pain or burning while urinatingVaginal discharge (may be thick and white and similar in appearance to cottage cheese)
Urinating frequentlyVaginal itching or soreness
Feeling the urge to urinate, even if the bladder is emptyPain during intercourse
Blood in the urinePain when urinating 
Pressure or pain in the groin or lower stomach

Yeast infection vs. UTI causes

A vaginal yeast infection can occur when healthy yeast in the vagina grows out of control, leading to itching and other uncomfortable symptoms of a yeast infection. 

Although yeast infections are common, certain risk factors may make a woman more likely to get a vaginal yeast infection. These may include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Women who take birth control pills 
  • Women who have diabetes
  • Women who have a compromised immune system (for example, due to HIV infection or medications such as steroids or chemotherapy)
  • Women who are taking an antibiotic or who have recently taken an antibiotic

Yeast infections are not considered sexually transmitted infections because yeast infections can occur without having sexual intercourse. However, a yeast infection can be contracted from an intimate partner.

A UTI can occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract and affect the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Most UTIs are caused by bacteria, such as E. Coli, which live in the bowel. Bacteria can enter the urinary tract during sexual activity or even while wiping after using the bathroom. People at higher risk for getting a UTI include:

  • Females (the anatomy makes it easier for bacteria to enter the urinary tract)
  • People who have had previous UTIs
  • People who are sexually active
  • Pregnant women
  • Older adults
  • Young children 
  • People with structural conditions of the urinary tract
  • People with poor hygiene (for example, a child who is potty-training and does not wipe properly)

How common are UTIs and yeast infections? 

Certain medical conditions or other factors may make a person more susceptible to a yeast infection or UTI. (See the above section for more information.)

UTIs cause more than 8 million doctor visits every year. Anyone can get a UTI, regardless of age or sex, but UTIs are more common in adult women. About 60% of women and 12% of men will get at least one UTI in their lifetime. 

Vaginal yeast infections are common, too. According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 75% of women will have at least one yeast infection in their lives, with some women experiencing two or more. 

While yeast infections do not cause UTIs, taking an antibiotic for a UTI may cause a yeast infection in some cases. It is possible to have both a UTI and a yeast infection at the same time. 

Yeast infection vs. UTI treatment

A vaginal yeast infection is treated with antifungal medication. Depending on the severity of symptoms and whether the patient visits their physician, there are various treatment options. There are over-the-counter antifungal treatments, such as creams, that are inserted daily into the vagina at bedtime. Some of these creams come with an external anti-itch cream. 

People who visit their health care provider may receive a prescription for an oral antifungal medication, such as Diflucan (fluconazole), and/or a prescription vaginal antifungal cream, such as Terazol. Many people start to feel better within a day or several days, but others may have an infection that is harder to clear and may require more extended treatment. Because antibiotics are for bacterial infections, they will not treat yeast infections. In fact, many patients who are taking an antibiotic for a bacterial infection will experience a yeast infection due to the disruption of the bacteria in the vaginal area. 

A bacterial UTI will require antibiotic use. A healthcare provider will prescribe an antibiotic that is most appropriate for the infection, taking into account other factors like allergies to medication and other medications being taken that may interact. A doctor will also determine the length of treatment based on symptom severity. Antibiotics should be taken exactly as directed. Do not stop taking the antibiotic before the treatment is complete, even if symptoms have ceased. This could cause the bacteria to return, and it could also cause antibiotic resistance, meaning that the medicine might not work the next time it is needed. A UTI cannot be treated with an antifungal treatment such as Monistat. Antifungal treatments treat yeast infections, while antibiotics treat bacterial UTIs. 

Consult a healthcare provider for medical advice. The healthcare professional can diagnose the type of infection and prescribe appropriate treatment. 

Preventing UTI or yeast infection

Some tips to help prevent UTIs include:

  • Urinate immediately after sexual intercourse
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Take showers rather than baths
  • Avoid using douches, sprays, or powders in the genital area
  • Wipe from front to back
  • Talk to a healthcare provider about the best type of birth control
  • Take cranberry tablets or drink cranberry juice
  • Do not hold urine. Use the bathroom when needed. Take the time to empty the bladder fully each time the bathroom is used. 

Some things that can help prevent yeast infections include:

  • Keep the genital area clean and dry. Clean with water only, avoiding soap. 
  • Avoid douching and other feminine products (sprays or powders). These may remove healthy bacteria, allowing yeast to take over. 
  • Eat yogurt with live cultures or take acidophilus supplements when taking antibiotics. 
  • Use condoms during sexual intercourse.
  • Wear loose-fitting, cotton underwear and clothing. Clothes that are too tight-fitting on the body can cause sweating and irritation. Avoid silk or nylon underwear, which can cause sweating, leading to yeast growth. 
  • Maintain good control of blood sugar levels, especially if diabetes is involved. 
  • After swimming or exercising, immediately remove wet clothing. Wash wet or sweaty clothes after each use. 

Always consult a healthcare professional for medical advice. While an occasional yeast infection may be successfully treated with an OTC medication, other infections may be more severe or can even be signs of other medical conditions, especially if infections recur. A bacterial UTI will require an antibiotic, and a prescription will be needed from a doctor for that. Also, since symptoms of a yeast infection and UTI may overlap, it’s best to let a healthcare provider make a diagnosis. 


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