Yeast Infection vs UTI: How to Tell the Difference?

Two types of infections that commonly affect women include yeast infections and UTIs. Despite these two infections being most common in women, both of them do not affect the vagina or other strictly female parts of the anatomy, which is just one of the differences between them.

Distinguishing between a yeast infection and UTI is important because treatment and prevention for the two vary, so properly treating your infection requires noticing what symptoms it produces.

Table of Contents

What Is a Yeast Infection?

A yeast infection occurs when the healthy yeast that normally resides in the vagina becomes too abundant and grows out of control. In most cases, yeast infections are due to a type of yeast called candida, which is why yeast infections may also be referred to as vulvovaginal candidiasis.

While yeast infections are most common in the vagina, they can also occur on penises and scrotums, although it is less common. Additionally, a yeast infection on the tongue, mouth, or throat is called “thrush.”

What Is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when a pathogen (e.g., bacteria, virus, fungus) infects any part of the urinary tract, which includes the urethra, ureters, bladder, and kidneys. Most often, a UTI is due to a bacterial infection of the bladder, which is why it may also be referred to as a bladder infection.

How To Tell the Difference Between a UTI And Yeast Infection?

While yeast infections and UTIs stem from similar areas of the body, they are different types of infections due to different pathogens, and as such, they produce different symptoms.

Symptoms of a UTI vs Yeast Infection Symptoms

The most prominent symptom of a yeast infection is a thick, clumpy, white vaginal discharge. It doesn’t usually smell, or if it does smell, it’s only slightly different than usual. Those with a yeast infection may also have a creamy, whitish coating in their vagina.

Most yeast infections eventually cause burning, itching, or redness in the vagina or around it, and the longer you have the infection, the worse the itching typically gets. Those with a lot of irritation may even feel a stinging when peeing.

In comparison, a UTI does not cause any unusual discharge or itching; its symptoms focus on the urinary tract.

  • burning or pain when urinating
  • urgently and frequently needing to urinate
  • feeling as though you cannot completely empty your bladder
  • nausea or vomiting

Yeast infections and UTIs can both cause pain when peeing, but the key to distinguishing between these two conditions is considering the other accompanying symptoms, as they are otherwise distinct.

Additionally, when infected with either condition, it is common to feel more tired than usual. This is because your body works hard to fight the infection, which consumes more energy and leaves you tired.

Causes for Yeast Infections And UTIs

A yeast infection results when the vaginal chemistry is thrown off, allowing the ordinary yeast that resides in the vagina to grow too much.

Some things that can cause this change in vaginal chemistry include:

  • antibiotics
  • normal hormonal changes (e.g., menstrual cycle)
  • diabetes
  • pregnancy
  • a natural reaction to someone else’s genital chemistry
  • a weak immune system

As for UTIs, they are caused by bacteria entering the urethra. One way that this can occur is during sexual activity, as the act itself can introduce bacteria to the urethra. In addition, certain methods of birth control, including spermicides, can help E. coli (the most common cause of UTIs) survive in the vagina, which increases the risk of introduction to the urethra.

Bacteria can also be introduced to the urinary tract through the use of a catheter, which is a tube that helps empty the bladder.

Risk Factors of UTIs and Yeast Infections

While bacteria cause UTIs, there are some conditions and situations that increase the risk of bacteria entering the urethra:

  • pregnancy
  • use of spermicide or diaphragms
  • not drinking enough water
  • age (young children and older adults are at higher risks)
  • structural problems in the urinary tract
  • kidney stones

Antibiotics, which are the prescribed treatment for UTIs, can also increase the risk of yeast infections because, while they are good at attacking the bacteria causing a UTI, they accomplish this while also harming the good bacteria in the body, which can cause an imbalance in the vagina.

Other risk factors for yeast infections include:

  • birth control
  • pregnancy
  • diabetes
  • weakened immune system

Another risk factor for yeast infections is having sex with multiple partners. In some cases, the vagina may react poorly to the natural genital chemistry of a sexual partner, which can cause an overgrowth of yeast. When you have multiple partners, the risk of this occurring increases.

Treatment of UTIs and Yeast Infections

Yeast infections and UTIs can both be treated with medication, although the type of medication differs.

Antifungal medicine can cure yeast infections, and medicated creams or suppositories can be found over-the-counter. There is also an oral medication available for yeast infections that consists of only a single dose, but it is only available with a doctor’s prescription.

UTIs, in comparison, are treated with prescription antibiotics. Some of the most common medications prescribed for UTIs include nitrofurantoin, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, and Fosfomycin.

For both treatments, it is important to follow instructions to ensure that the yeast or bacteria are entirely treated, otherwise, there is an increased risk of recurrence.

Additionally, when treating both infections, one way to relieve symptoms is wearing loose clothing, which can help ease irritation.

Prevention of UTIs and Yeast Infections

Prevention for UTIs and yeast infections can vary, but some similarities exist.

For both infections, you will want to be sure to wipe from front to back, as this prevents the introduction of bacteria or other microorganisms into the vagina or urinary tract.

If a partner has a yeast infection, it is recommended to avoid sexual activity because it can be passed back and forth, and this is true even if a partner does not have active symptoms.

Certain hygiene practices can also help to prevent yeast infections. For example, wet bathing suits can increase the risk of yeast infection, so be sure to change into something dry when you are done swimming. Additionally, wear only cotton underwear, change them frequently, and wash them in hot water.

It is also important to avoid anything that may upset the balance in the vagina, such as douching or using scented feminine products.

Probiotics can help prevent both yeast infections and UTIs. For yeast infections, they help to balance the microflora in the body. For UTIs, they ensure that there are enough good bacteria in the vagina to fight harmful bacteria and prevent introduction to the urethra.

Probiotics can be found in:

  • yogurt
  • kefir
  • sauerkraut
  • pickles
  • supplements

As for UTIs, one of the most important methods of prevention is drinking enough water and using the bathroom whenever the need arises. This ensures that the urinary tract is regularly flushed out, which prevents bacteria from growing and reproducing. 

When To See a Doctor?

Since a UTI can progress into a kidney infection (which is much more severe) if left untreated, it is recommended to see a doctor as soon as you notice any symptoms.

As for yeast infections, many women successfully use over-the-counter antifungal products to treat them. However, if the infection does not improve with these products, it is recommended to see a doctor. It’s also best to see a doctor if you have frequent yeast infections (four or more in a year).

Additionally, pregnant women should see a doctor if they suspect a UTI or yeast infection. Your doctor can help you get a prompt treatment that is safe to use while pregnant.

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Key Takeaways

Yeast infections and UTIs affect areas of the body that are close to each other, but they are still different infections. The biggest difference is that a yeast infection most often infects the vagina, whereas a UTI affects the urinary tract system. Additionally, a UTI is a bacterial infection, while a yeast infection is fungal.

These different infections produce different symptoms, with yeast infections often causing unusual vaginal discharge and itching, while UTIs cause pain or burning when urinating and urgently needing to urinate. Treatment also varies, with UTIs requiring antibiotics, while yeast infections are often treated with OTC antifungal medication.

Despite these infections most commonly affecting women, there are actions women can take to prevent them. If you do suspect a UTI or yeast infection, though, it is often best to see a doctor to help determine which one it is.

References

  • Storme, O., Tirán Saucedo, J., Garcia-Mora, A., Dehesa-Dávila, M., & Naber, K. (2019). Risk factors and predisposing conditions for urinary tract infection. Therapeutic Advances In Urology, 11, 175628721881438. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1177/1756287218814382 
  • Denning, D., Kneale, M., Sobel, J., & Rautemaa-Richardson, R. (2018). Global burden of recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis: a systematic review. The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 18(11), e339-e347. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1016/s1473-3099(18)30103-8 
  • Willems, H., Ahmed, S., Liu, J., Xu, Z., & Peters, B. (2020). Vulvovaginal Candidiasis: A Current Understanding and Burning Questions. Journal Of Fungi, 6(1), 27. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.3390/jof6010027 
  • Rosati, D., Bruno, M., Jaeger, M., ten Oever, J., & Netea, M. (2020). Recurrent Vulvovaginal Candidiasis: An Immunological Perspective. Microorganisms, 8(2), 144. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms8020144 
  • Azie, N., Angulo, D., Dehn, B., & Sobel, J. (2020). Oral Ibrexafungerp: an investigational agent for the treatment of vulvovaginal candidiasis. Expert Opinion On Investigational Drugs, 29(9), 893-900. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1080/13543784.2020.1791820 
  • 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 
  • Ahmed, S. S., Shariq, A., Alsalloom, A. A., Babikir, I. H., & Alhomoud, B. N. (2019). Uropathogens and their antimicrobial resistance patterns: Relationship with urinary tract infections. International journal of health sciences, 13(2), 48–55. PMID: 30983946; PMCID: PMC6436442.

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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