Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia often share some symptoms. For example, both may cause pain when urinating. This can make it difficult to know whether you have a UTI or if you could have chlamydia or another STI.
The only way to know for sure is usually to see a doctor, but it’s also important to be educated about how to recognize the symptoms of each and the differences between them.
There might be some clues that you are experiencing one or the other, even if you’re not certain until you see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
What Is a UTI?
A UTI is a bacterial infection in any part of your urinary system (the urinary tract), which includes your bladder, urethra, ureters (the tubes between the kidneys and bladder), and kidneys. It’s more common for a UTI to affect the lower urinary tract, which is the urethra and bladder. However, UTIs can become more severe and reach as far as the kidneys.
What Is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or sexually transmitted disease (STD). It’s a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. Almost 3 million Americans contract chlamydia every year. It’s most common in 14-24-year-olds, but anyone who is sexually active can get it.
Chlamydia is passed on through sexual fluids and can infect the genitals, anus, eyes, and throat. It doesn’t usually present any symptoms until the infection is more advanced.
Chlamydia vs UTI: What Are the Main Differences?
UTIs and chlamydia can sometimes present in similar ways. Both might cause painful urinating or frequent urination, as well as lower abdomen or pelvic pain. However, there are differences in their symptoms and what causes them.
The key symptoms of chlamydia that aren’t present in UTIs include unusual vaginal or penile discharge, genital blisters and rashes, testicular pain, a sore throat, and painful intercourse. Another big difference between them is how they are caused. Both are bacterial infections but they are different types of bacteria.
Chlamydia is only transmitted through sexual activity, but urinary tract infections are not contagious. There is, however, evidence that intercourse can increase the risk of a UTI. Sexual behavior and UTI history are important factors in the risk of developing UTIs.
Understanding the symptoms of UTIs and chlamydia can help you to differentiate between them.
Symptoms of UTI:
- Pain or burning when urinating
- Frequent urination
- Frequent or persistent urge to urinate
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
- Cloudy or discolored urine
- Urine with a strong smell
Symptoms of chlamydia:
- Unusual penile or vaginal discharge
- Genital blisters or rashes
- Sore throat
- Testicular pain
- Painful intercourse
Causes of Chlamydia and UTI
Chlamydia and UTIs are both caused by bacteria, but their causes are different. Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis, while UTIs are caused by bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract, such as E.coli.
Chlamydia is almost exclusively contracted through sexual contact, although it can also be passed from mother to baby during birth. The bacteria that cause urinary tract infections are usually bacteria that live in the bowel. Women are more likely to get UTIs because their urethra is shorter, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter the bladder. Additionally, the urethra is closer to the anus and vagina, which are sources of bacteria. Other factors might increase the risk of developing a UTI, including not drinking enough, holding urine in for long periods, diabetes, pregnancy, and having a history of UTIs.
How to Know If You Have a UTI or Chlamydia
The best way to know if you have a UTI or chlamydia, especially if you are experiencing symptoms for the first time, is to see a doctor. However, you might be able to take a good guess as to whether you have a UTI or chlamydia (or another STD) by assessing your symptoms.
One study showed that urinary symptoms in young women don’t have any significant association with STIs. If you are experiencing urinary symptoms without other symptoms of chlamydia, such as discharge, it’s more likely that you have a UTI. Discharge from your vagina or penis is one of the key differentiators between chlamydia and UTIs. If you’re experiencing this symptom, you could have chlamydia.
When to See a Doctor
Knowing when to see a doctor is important. Both chlamydia and UTIs are treated with antibiotics, which need to be prescribed by a doctor. Minor UTIs may clear up on their own, but it’s still best to get medical advice to see if you require treatment. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, see a doctor for their advice.
It’s also worth remembering that you can have chlamydia without experiencing any symptoms. In fact, chlamydia usually only shows symptoms after it has progressed. Regular STD tests help you to ensure any symptom-free infections are detected as soon as possible and can be treated appropriately, especially if you have recently had unprotected sex.
Get Help from an Online Doctor
Finding the time to see a doctor in person isn’t always easy, particularly if you live in an area where accessing medical help is difficult. An online doctor can give you the help that you need without you having to visit a doctor’s office.
DrHouse lets you see a doctor within minutes, so you can get help with any health problem quickly and from the comfort of your home (or office, or wherever you want).
UTIs and chlamydia can sometimes share symptoms, but urinary symptoms could be more likely to be caused by a UTI.
If you think you have either a UTI or chlamydia, you should see a doctor to discuss your symptoms. Even if you’re not experiencing any symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor if you think you could have chlamydia or another STD.
Both UTIs and chlamydia can be treated with a course of antibiotics, which kills the bacteria causing the infection. Your symptoms might be uncomfortable, but help is at hand to get you feeling better quickly.
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- Huppert JS, Biro F, Lan D, Mortensen JE, Reed J, Slap GB. Urinary symptoms in adolescent females: STI or UTI? J Adolesc Health. 2007 May;40(5):418-24. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.jadohealth.2006.12.010 .
- Peters RP, Feucht UD, de Vos L, Ngwepe P, McIntyre JA, Klausner JD, Medina-Marino A. Mother-to-child transmission of Chlamydia trachomatis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and Trichomonas vaginalis in HIV-infected pregnant women in South Africa. Int J STD AIDS. 2021 Aug;32(9):799-805. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1177/0956462421990218
- Brown, P.D., Foxman, B. Pathogenesis of urinary tract infection: The role of sexual behavior and sexual transmission. Curr Infect Dis Rep 2, 513 (2000). Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11908-000-0054-4
- Bladder Infection (Urinary Tract Infection—UTI) in Adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-infection-uti-in-adults
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