UTI Vs. STD: How to Tell the Difference?

UTIs and STDs are two common conditions that each affect many people. To make things more confusing, the symptoms of many common STDs are similar to those of a UTI, making it challenging to tell which type of infection you have.

Not only is knowing the difference between the two important for treatment, but it also dictates if you need to be more careful when having sex to avoid passing the infection on to someone else.

What Is A UTI?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) affects any part of the urinary tract, including the urethra, ureters, bladder, or kidneys. However, the most common UTIs affect the bladder.

UTIs are most often caused by bacteria entering the urethra and then traveling through the urinary tract as they multiply, with the bacteria most often causing UTIs being E. coli.

What Is An STD?

A sexually transmitted disease (STD) is an infection typically transmitted through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. However, they can also be spread through intravenous drug use, childbirth, or breastfeeding.

Many people with an STD may not have any symptoms, which can make recognizing this infection difficult.

The most common STDs include:

  • chlamydia
  • syphilis
  • gonorrhea
  • herpes
  • trichomonas vulvovaginitis
  • HIV
  • HPV
  • hepatitis B

Is a UTI an STD?

A UTI is not an STD, and it also is not considered a contagious condition.

Despite this, it is possible to pass the bacteria that cause a UTI to a sexual partner, which can increase the risk of developing a UTI.

Additionally, some UTIs may result as a side effect of STIs such as trichomoniasis or chlamydia.

How To Tell the Difference Between A UTI And STD?

STDs and UTIs can sometimes have similar symptoms, which can make differentiating between the two challenging. 

Most STDs are asymptomatic, so if you are feeling any symptoms such as burning when peeing or pelvic pain, it is likely a UTI. That’s not to say that an STD cannot cause these symptoms, but more often than not it does not have any symptoms. 

However, there are some symptoms which suggest that the infection is more likely to be an STD, and they include:

  • vaginal rash
  • blisters in the genital area
  • fever
  • bleeding or spotting between periods
  • pain during sex
  • sore throat
  • nausea
  • swelling in the joints

Again, most STDs do not display with any symptoms, so it is also possible to have an STD without the above symptoms. These symptoms are not due to a UTI, though, so if they are present it is more likely to be an STD. 

Can An STD Feel Like A UTI?

Depending on the STD, it may feel like a UTI. Some symptoms that these two infections can share include:

  • increasing need to urinate
  • pain or burning when urinating
  • foul-smelling urine
  • urgently needing to urinate
  • pelvic pain
  • cloudy or dark urine
  • unusual discharge

However, it is essential to note that most STDs do not display any symptoms, and if the above symptoms are present, it’s more likely to be a UTI.

How Do I Know If I Have A UTI Or STD?

The only true way to determine if you have an STD instead of a UTI is to see a doctor. With a quick test, your doctor can screen you for various STDs. Receiving this test is the best way to ensure that you are treated for the correct condition. 

Doctors can also test for UTIs using a urine test where they check for bacteria. However, this is not always needed.

Receiving a correct diagnosis is crucial, yet The American Society for Microbiology estimates that 64% of those with an STD are instead diagnosed with a UTI. This is important to avoid because it causes someone to receive antibiotic treatment when their body does not need it, potentially leading to antibiotic resistance.

How To Prevent Them?

With how unpleasant both of these conditions can be, it’s only natural to wonder what can be done to prevent them. The following guidelines can help to protect yourself from infection.

Preventing UTIs

There are many hygiene habits that you can implement to prevent UTIs, including:

  • urinating after having sex
  • cleaning your genitals before and after sex
  • wiping from front to back after going to the bathroom
  • drinking plenty of water
  • urinating when you need to (don’t hold in your pee) and emptying the bladder completely when you do.

Preventing STDs

The biggest way to protect yourself from STDs is to abstain from sex. However, this is not realistic for many people.  For those who are sexually active, be sure to use a condom, especially if you have multiple sexual partners.

Additionally, ensuring that both you and your partner(s) have had regular STD screenings can help to prevent the spread of STDs.

Treatment for UTIs and STDs

UTIs sometimes dissipate on their own, but in most cases, a short course of antibiotics is needed to treat the infection.

As for STDs, treatment depends on the type of STD. Many bacterial and parasitic infections (e.g., syphilis, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and chlamydia) can be treated with antibiotics.

Those with viral STDs, such as HIV or herpes, are often prescribed an antiviral drug. These STDs are not curable, but taking antiviral drugs can help to control the infection and lessen the risk of transferring it to someone else.

For both UTIs and STDs, earlier treatment is better, which is why it is recommended to see a doctor as soon as any unusual symptoms appear.

When To See a Doctor

Because a UTI can evolve into a kidney infection, which is a much more serious condition, it is crucial to see a doctor whenever you have any symptoms of a UTI. Additionally, if you have any symptoms of an STD, such as a genital rash or blisters, it is also important to see a doctor to treat the infection or lessen the risk of passing it on to someone else. 

If your doctor prescribes you antibiotics, it is vital to take them as directed to ensure that the entire infection is cleared. Stopping antibiotics too early increases the risk of another infection and may lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Get Help from An Online Doctor

An online doctor is an excellent tool to discuss your symptoms and determine if you have an STD or UTI, or if further testing is needed to determine which infection you have. If your doctor determines that you have a UTI or bacterial STD, they can prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.

Key Takeaways

UTIs and STDs are two infections that can produce similar symptoms of painful urination, pelvic pain, and unusual discharge. However, treatment for these two infections is not the same, which makes distinguishing between the two important.

In most cases, STDs do not present with any symptoms. So, if you have any of the above symptoms, it is likely a UTI. However, there are some symptoms that are typically associated with STDs, such as a fever, vaginal rash, genital blisters, and bleeding between periods. STDs are often misdiagnosed as UTIs, though, which can impact treatment effectiveness.

Preventing UTIs requires more work than preventing STDs, such as urinating after sex, washing the genitals before and after sex, and drinking plenty of water. In comparison, the best way to prevent STDs (besides abstaining from sex) is by using a condom.

If you think you have a UTI or STD, meeting with an online doctor is a great way to discuss your symptoms and receive an antibiotic in the case of a UTI or bacterial STD.

Sources

  • Antibiotic Prescribing and Use: Urinary Tract Infection. (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/uti.html 
  • Tomas, M., Getman, D., Donskey, C., & Hecker, M. (2015). Overdiagnosis of Urinary Tract Infection and Underdiagnosis of Sexually Transmitted Infection in Adult Women Presenting to an Emergency Department. Journal Of Clinical Microbiology, 53(8), 2686-2692. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1128/jcm.00670-15 
  • Huppert, J., Biro, F., Lan, D., Mortensen, J., Reed, J., & Slap, G. (2007). Urinary Symptoms in Adolescent Females: STI or UTI?. Journal Of Adolescent Health, 40(5), 418-424. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2006.12.010 
  • Orenstein, R., & Wong, E. S. (1999). Urinary tract infections in adults. American family physician, 59(5), 1225–1237.
  • Klein, R., & Hultgren, S. (2020). Urinary tract infections: microbial pathogenesis, host–pathogen interactions and new treatment strategies. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 18(4), 211-226. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1038/s41579-020-0324-0 
  • 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 

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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