UTI Discharge – Everything You Should Know

Unusual vaginal discharge or discharge, in general, from the penis, can be concerning and may leave you wondering what is causing it.

Many people question if a UTI can cause discharge as one of its symptoms. For women, a UTI will not cause unusual vaginal discharge, but men may experience penile discharge. However, there are other causes of penile and vaginal discharge that may have nothing to do with a UTI.

Table of Contents

What Is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is most often a bacterial infection of the bladder, although it may impact any aspect of the urinary tract, including the urethra, ureters, or kidneys.

In most cases, a UTI is due to the bacteria E. coli, which resides in and around the anus. When E. coli enter the urethra, they can travel through the urinary tract until they reach the bladder. If the bacteria keep traveling, though, they may infect the kidneys.

What Are the Common Symptoms of a UTI?

The most common symptoms of a UTI include:

  • burning or pain when urinating
  • frequent and urgent need to urinate
  • urinating very little when going to the bathroom
  • bloody or cloudy urine
  • cramping or pressure in the lower abdomen or groin
  • foul-smelling urine

Can a UTI Cause Vaginal Discharge?

Since a UTI infects the urinary tract, not the vagina, it does not cause vaginal discharge.

However, there may still be a link between UTIs and vaginal discharge.  

Is There a Connection Between a UTI and Vaginal Discharge?

The primary connection between a UTI and vaginal discharge is that your vaginal discharge may indicate a higher risk of UTI. This is because certain types of vaginal discharge indicate an infection, which then increases UTI risk.

Two infections commonly affecting the vagina are yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis (BV), and both of these infections cause changes in vaginal discharge.

While UTIs are most often caused by infection from E. coli, other bacteria can cause them, and that is what might occur with yeast infections or BV.

Since the vagina is close to the urethra, an infection impacting the vagina means that the bacteria are very likely to come into contact with the urethra, which can then lead to a UTI.

Because of this connection, having unusual vaginal discharge indicative of a vaginal infection may forewarn an upcoming UTI.

Another connection between UTIs and vaginal discharge goes the other way. When you have a UTI, antibiotics are often prescribed as a treatment. However, antibiotics can affect all bacteria in the body, including the beneficial bacteria that reside in the vagina. When these bacteria are destroyed, harmful bacteria can run rampant, which may then cause a bacterial infection and unusual vaginal discharge.

Can a UTI Cause Penile Discharge?

While women are more likely to have a UTI than men, men can still experience this infection. The most common symptoms in men include urgent and frequent needs to use the restroom, but penile discharge is another potential symptom.

If the UTI has infected the urethra, which is a condition called urethritis, the penis may produce a white or frothy discharge.

What Could Be Causing Your Discharge?

Vaginal discharge is a natural secretion from the vagina and is often not a concern when it is clear or white and has only a mild odor.

Some potential causes of vaginal discharge, or increased vaginal discharge, include:

  • pregnancy
  • sexual arousal
  • ovulation
  • hormonal birth control
  • menopause

There are, however, some other types of infections that may cause changes in discharge. For example, the STDs of chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause unusual vaginal and penile discharge, which is often accompanied by itching or burning sensations.

A yeast infection of the vagina can also cause vaginal discharge that is thick, white, and clumpy, often resembling cottage cheese. Similar to a UTI, a yeast infection may also cause burning when urinating, although its other symptoms include itching, irritation, pain, or redness of the vagina.

Another vaginal infection is bacterial vaginosis, which can cause vaginal discharge that may be thin, white, gray, or green, and typically with a strong fish smell.

As for men, another potential cause of discharge has to do with the prostate. If the prostate is inflamed, there may be a clear discharge that comes from the penis. An inflamed prostate can also cause urgent and frequent needs to urinate, like a UTI, although it may also cause ejaculatory pain and sexual dysfunction.

Treatment and Prevention of UTIs

The only way to cure a UTI is with an antibiotic, and the antibiotics most commonly prescribed for UTIs are:

  • Nitrofurantoin
  • Trimethoprim/Sulfamethoxazole
  • Fosfomycin

Home remedies such as cranberry juice and drinking plenty of water can also help relieve symptoms as the antibiotics work and may even speed along your recovery.

When it comes to preventing UTIs, one of the most crucial steps is practicing good hygiene. For women, this includes wiping from front to back after going to the bathroom. Additionally, women should urinate after having sex to flush out any bacteria that may have entered the urethra.

Practicing safe sex through male or female condoms is another important way to prevent the spread of bacteria. This is especially important for men when having anal sex.

Staying hydrated is another crucial step for preventing UTIs in both genders since this regularly flushes out the urinary tract and any bacteria that may be in it.

When to See a Doctor?

Since a UTI can become a kidney infection, seeing a doctor as soon as you notice any symptoms is important. If left untreated, a kidney infection allows for bacteria to enter the bloodstream and cause a whole-body infection called sepsis, which can be very severe.

If you think you have a UTI or other infection causing unusual penile or vaginal discharge, an online doctor can help provide quick guidance. With DrHouse, you can meet with a doctor in just 15 minutes to discuss your symptoms, receive a diagnosis, and receive an antibiotic prescription.

Key Takeaways

A UTI is a urinary tract infection most often involving bacterial infection of the bladder. Its most common symptoms in both men and women include burning or pain when urinating and urgent and frequent needs to urinate.

A UTI does not cause vaginal discharge, but it may cause a white and frothy discharge in men. Other potential causes of discharge in both genders include other infections such as STIs, yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis. Enlarged prostates and pregnancy can also cause discharge in men and women, respectively.

Treatment for UTIs involves a short course of antibiotics, which can be prescribed by an online doctor for a quick and convenient source of symptom relief.

References

  • Medina, M., & Castillo-Pino, E. (2019). An introduction to the epidemiology and burden of urinary tract infections. Therapeutic Advances In Urology, 11, 175628721983217. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1177/1756287219832172 
  • Al-Badr, A., & Al-Shaikh, G. (2013). Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Management in Women: A review. Sultan Qaboos University medical journal, 13(3), 359–367. https://doi.org/10.12816/0003256 
  • Storme O, Tirán Saucedo J, Garcia-Mora A, Dehesa-Dávila M, Naber KG. Risk factors and predisposing conditions for urinary tract infection. Ther Adv Urol. 2019;11:1756287218814382. Published 2019 May 2. doi:https://www.doi.org/10.1177/1756287218814382 
  • Sabih A, Leslie SW. Complicated Urinary Tract Infections. [Updated 2022 May 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK436013/ 
  • Lemly, D., & Gupta, N. (2020). Sexually Transmitted Infections Part 2: Discharge Syndromes and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. Pediatrics in review, 41(10), 522–537. https://doi.org/10.1542/pir.2019-0078 
  • Hamill, M., Onzia, A., Wang, T., Kiragga, A., Hsieh, Y., & Parkes-Ratanshi, R. et al. (2022). High burden of untreated syphilis, drug resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and other sexually transmitted infections in men with urethral discharge syndrome in Kampala, Uganda. BMC Infectious Diseases, 22(1). doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1186/s12879-022-07431-1 
  • Rao, V., & Mahmood, T. (2020). Vaginal discharge. Obstetrics, Gynaecology &Amp; Reproductive Medicine, 30(1), 11-18. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1016/j.ogrm.2019.10.004 

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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