Skip to Content

UTI vs Bladder vs Yeast Infections - What's the difference?

Medically reviewed by C. Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on Aug 19, 2019.

Official Answer

by Drugs.com

The main difference between a vaginal yeast infection and a UTI is that a yeast infection is caused by the Candida fungus and affects the vagina, whereas a UTI is usually caused by bacteria and affects the urinary tract. The urinary tract includes the bladder, kidneys, ureter (the tube that connects the kidneys to the bladder), and urethra (the tube that removes urine from the body). A bladder infection is a type of urinary tract infection, but not all UTIs are bladder infections.

Both vaginal yeast infections and UTIs may cause pain when urinating or discomfort in the genital area; however, generally other symptoms and treatment differ. Seek professional advice from a health care provider if you think you may have either a yeast infection or UTI. Untreated UTIs and yeast infections particularly in women who are pregnant can harm the fetus and may result in complications during and after delivery.

What is a yeast infection?

Yeast infections most often affect the vagina in women, although they can also affect the mouth, gut, penis, anus, and other parts of the body. Vaginal yeast infections are also known as candidiasis or vaginal thrush.

Pregnancy, antibiotic use, or a weakened immune system increase a woman’s risk of developing a yeast infection. Yeast infections are also more common in women:

  • With uncontrolled diabetes
  • Using high-dose estrogen birth control
  • Using douches or vaginal sprays
  • Wearing tight underwear and synthetic clothes that don’t breathe.

Vaginal yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of yeast within the vagina, and are very common, affecting around 75% of women at least once in their lifetime. A healthy vagina contains bacteria and some yeast cells, but a disruption in the balance of yeast and bacteria causes an overgrowth of yeast cells and symptoms of vaginal thrush. Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection range from mild to moderate and include:

  • Intense itching or irritation around the genital area
  • A burning sensation, especially during intercourse or while urinating
  • A thick, white, odor-free, discharge (may resemble cottage cheese).

Although vaginal yeast infections are not considered a sexually transmitted infection, sexual intercourse can trigger or spread them. Women who aren’t sexually active can also get them. Some women are prone to yeast infections and get them relatively regularly.

Treatment of vaginal yeast infections usually involves topical or oral antifungals, such as butoconazole, clotrimazole or fluconazole. Symptoms usually resolve quickly, although in more severe cases treatment may be needed for up to two weeks.

Eating natural, unsweetened yogurt that contains Lactobacillus acidophilus may help prevent yeast infections. The risk of yeast infections may also be lessened by staying hydrated and urinating when the need arises, not holding it in. Women should wipe from front to back after a bowel movement, urinate before and after sex, and avoiding using douches, vaginal sprays, and scented feminine hygiene products. They should avoid wearing restrictive, synthetic clothing, or change out of such clothing as soon as possible after exercising or swimming.

What is a UTI?

A UTI (urinary tract infection) is an infection of the urinary tract. The urinary tract includes the bladder, kidneys, ureter (the tube that connects the kidneys to the bladder), and urethra (the tube that removes urine from the body).

Most UTIs are caused when bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, or Staphylococcus saprophyticus, enter the urinary tract. Women of all ages are most at risk of UTIs because the female urethra is much shorter than the male urethra, which allows bacteria near the vagina to enter the bladder more easily. Older males are also at a higher risk. Other factors that increase the risk of a UTI include:

  • Sexual intercourse
  • Certain contraceptives (eg, diaphragms or spermicides)
  • Wiping from back to front after a bowel movement
  • The presence of kidney or bladder stones
  • Urinating without fully emptying the bladder
  • Pregnancy
  • Having a urinary catheter.

UTIs in children are reasonably common, affecting up to 8% of girls and 2% of boys. Young children also are at higher risk of kidney damage from UTIs than adults. Some children are born with structural abnormalities in their bladder that cause vesicoureteral reflux, where urine reenters the bladder from one or both ureters, which also increases the likelihood of UTIs.

There is controversy over whether unsweetened cranberry juice is an effective treatment or prevention for UTIs. A 2013 review of 24 studies concluded that is was less effective than previously thought. The risk of UTIs may be lessened by staying hydrated and urinating when the need arises, not holding it in. Women should wipe from front to back after a bowel movement, urinate before and after sex, and avoiding using douches, vaginal sprays, and scented feminine hygiene products. They should avoid wearing restrictive, synthetic clothing, or change out of such clothing as soon as possible after exercising or swimming.

What is a bladder infection?

A bladder infection is a type of urinary tract infection, but not all UTIs are bladder infections. Bladder infections are the most common type of UTIs. A bladder infection may also be called cystitis and it is usually caused by bacteria.

Symptoms of a UTI can differ depending on what part of the urinary tract is infected. A bladder infection usually causes symptoms such as:

  • Burning when urinating (the medical term for this is dysuria)
  • The feeling that you need to pee frequently, but when you go to the toilet very little urine comes out
  • Pain in the pelvic area just above the pubic bone.

Bladder infections are usually considered “simple UTIs” and treatment is usually with antibiotics (such as trimethoprim or amoxicillin-clavulanate potassium) for three to five days. Symptoms usually resolve in a couple of days.

What are the symptoms of urethritis?

People with an infection of the urethra (called urethritis) may experience symptoms similar to a bladder infection in addition to itching or irritation at the end of the urethra where the pee comes out.

What are the symptoms of a kidney infection?

Symptoms of a kidney infection are usually more widespread and more severe than those of a bladder infection and may include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Pink or red-tinged urine (this is a sign of bleeding in the urinary tract)
  • Burning when urinating
  • The feeling that you need to pee frequently, but when you go to the toilet very little urine comes out
  • Pain in the pelvic area just above the pubic bone
  • Moderate to severe lower back pain
  • Nausea or vomiting.

Kidney infections are considered the most severe type of UTI and usually begin as a bladder or urethra infection but then the bacteria multiply and travel up to the kidneys.

Kidney infections are usually called "complicated UTIs" and some people may require hospitalization for intravenous antibiotics. Less severe infections may be treated with oral antibiotics over a week or more. Untreated kidney infections can be life-threatening.

Related Medical Questions

Related Support Groups