UTI vs. Yeast Infection: What's the Difference?

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UTI vs. Yeast Infection vs. STD: What’s the Difference?

Your body is vulnerable to countless diseases and disorders, and it can be especially alarming when you notice something isn’t right in more sensitive areas of your body.

There could be a wide range of reasons for pain, itching, or discomfort in your genital area, but the most common are sexually transmitted diseases, UTIs, and yeast infections.

Let’s take a look at the difference between UTI and yeast infection and the difference between a UTI and STD.

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

Your urinary tract comprises a series of organs that create, transport, and store urine through your body.

It starts with the kidneys, which extract waste and excess water from your blood to create urine. This is taken to the bladder via the ureters. The bladder stores the urine until it reaches a certain level, at which point the muscles surrounding the bladder can voluntarily relax, taking the urine through the urethra and out of your body.

A urinary tract infection happens when bacteria, usually E. coli, enters your urethra. From there, it can travel up your urinary system to your bladder, where it can use the urine to multiply and become a full-blown infection. If left unchecked, the bacteria can make its way up to the kidneys, turning the UTI into a more serious kidney infection.
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What Causes a Urinary Tract Infection?

E. coli are the main culprits of UTIs, responsible for about 90% of all cases. E. coli is normally found in the colons and around the anuses of humans and animals.

Women are more likely to suffer from urinary tract infections than men due to their anatomy. Women’s anuses are closer to their urethras, making it much easier for E. coli to enter the urinary system from improper wiping or toilet splash back. Women also have shorter urethras, making it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder and thus spread as an infection.

Sex can also introduce bacteria into your urinary system, regardless of gender. While it won’t cause a urinary tract infection on its own, holding your urine for too long will allow for more germs to proliferate in your urinary system. For that reason, kidney stones and other obstructions can also lead to UTIs.

Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections:

Urinary tract infections come with a wide range of varying symptoms, including:

  • Burning or painful urination
  • Dark, cloudy urine that may appear red or pink from blood
  • An intense need to urinate all the time, even though you only go a small amount
  • Urine that smells bad
  • General fatigue or malaise
  • Pain or pressure in your pelvis, back, and abdomen

Treatments for Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections can thankfully be treated with a course of antibiotics, which should show improvement within the first day of administration. However, make sure you do take the entire course of antibiotics you are prescribed, usually around a week, to completely eliminate bacteria and cure the infection.

Your doctor may also prescribe a medication to combat the pain and discomfort of urinating. If you think you are suffering from recurrent or chronic UTIs, it is important to tell your doctor to ensure you are receiving proper treatment.

In terms of home remedies, make sure you drink plenty of water to not only stay hydrated, but also help flush out the bacteria. Use a heating pad on your abdomen and pelvis to relieve pressure. Avoid foods that can irritate your urinary system, including coffee, alcohol, and soda containing caffeine or citrus juice. Many people also turn to cranberry juice, though the efficacy of it is in doubt.

Some studies suggest that the tannins in cranberry juice keep bacteria from clinging to the walls of your urinary tract, but other studies have come up inconclusive. Overall, there’s no harm in drinking cranberry juice if you find it comforting, but you should avoid it if you are taking any blood thinning medications.

Preventing Urinary Tract Infections

To prevent a UTI:

  • Urinate when you need to, emptying as much of your bladder as possible.
  • Wash your genitals and urinate immediately after sex and any strenous exercise.
  • Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting pants to keep your genitals dry, thus preventing an environment for bacteria to grow.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Wipe front to back.
  • Take showers instead of baths.

What is a Yeast Infection?

Yeast is a type of fungus that exists in various environments. Candida albicans is a type of yeast that normally lives in small, harmless numbers within the vagina. However, when that number grows too large, a woman may suffer a yeast infection, which is also known as candidiasis, named after the imposing yeast cells.
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Yeast infections are common. About 75 percent of women will suffer a yeast infection at some point in their lives. As bothersome and uncomfortable as yeast infections are, they are generally not serious.

What Causes Yeast Infections?

Candida is generally kept in check by Lactobacillus acidophilus, a beneficial bacteria that also lives within the vagina. However, certain changes in body chemistry can change the balance of these organisms, causing the yeast to spread and cause issues. This imbalance can be caused by:

  • Certain antibiotics
  • Hormone therapy, pregnancy, and other situations that may increase estrogen levels
  • Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and other immunosuppressant health issues
  • General stress
  • Lack of sleep

It is also possible for a woman to transmit a yeast infection to her sexual partner. However, yeast infections are not considered to be sexually transmitted infections as women who have not been sexually active can also get yeast infections.

Symptoms of Yeast Infections

Yeast infections all generally present the same set of symptoms, including:

  • Itching
  • Soreness around the vagina
  • Thick white discharge
  • Pain during urination or sex

These symptoms become more apparent in the week before your period and may become more severe the longer you wait to receive treatment. If you think that you may have a yeast infection, book an appointment with a doctor today.

Treatments for Yeast Infections

Every infection is different, so the treatment you undergo may be different from others’. For simple infections, you may be prescribed a single dose of fluconazole or other oral medication. This is combined with an antifungal cream, ointment, suppository, or ointment on a regimen lasting one to three days. Common antifungal medications include:

  • Monistat
  • Butoconazole
  • Terconazole
  • Miconazole

For complicated infections that don’t respond to normal medication, you may need a more aggressive treatment. Cases requiring more serious treatment include:

  • Infection that is characterized by swelling, redness, and itching that creates sores and tears in vaginal tissue
  • More than four cases of yeast infection in a year
  • Infection caused by a Candida yeast other than Candida albicans
  • Pregnancy
  • Uncontrolled diabetes, AIDS, or other condition that has weakened your immune system

Treatments for complicated infections include:

  • Up to three doses of fluconazole
  • A long-term prescription of fluconazole taken each week for up to six weeks
  • 14-day treatment involving cream, ointment, suppository, or tablet
  • Long-term topical anti-fungal medication

If you don’t want to take prescription drugs, you may also consider certain natural remedies. The most popular include tea tree oil cream and garlic or boric acid vaginal suppositories. However, you should still consult your doctor before using any home remedies.

Preventing Yeast Infection

Most forms of prevention involve avoiding bacteria growth around your vagina, but some common steps for prevention:

  • Eat yogurt or other probiotic supplements.
  • Avoid tight pants, leggings, and other legwear.
  • Wear cotton, linen, and other natural, breathable fibers.
  • Avoid taking frequent hot baths or sitting in hot tubs for long periods of time.
  • Avoid deodorant tampons and pads, and replace old feminine products frequently.

What is an STD?

A sexually transmitted disease is any disease that is spread by having sex with someone who has a sexually transmitted disease. So while yeast infections can be spread via sex, they are not considered STDs because you do not need to have sex to get one.

A reported 1 in 4 teens in the U.S. are infected with a sexually transmitted disease each year. Studies suggest that half of all sexually active young adults will get an STD by the age of 25. All STDs are serious and should be treated immediately. Certain STDs, like HIV/AIDS, are deadly and do not have a cure, though medication can help you manage symptoms and live a relatively normal life.

There are a wide range of sexually transmitted diseases, including:

  • Genital herpes
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Syphilis
  • Hepatitis
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV)

What Causes Sexually Transmitted Diseases?

The genital area provides a warm, moist environment that offers excellent conditions for the growth of various microorganisms. While some of these microorganisms are beneficial—like the Lactobacillus bacteria—others can prove harmful.
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Sexually transmitted infections are caused by various bacteria, fungi, and parasites that may survive on the skin or mucus membranes of the genital area. These microorganisms can then be transmitted by vaginal secretions, semen, or blood from small cuts or micro-tears.

Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Symptoms differ based on the person, the severity of the infection, and the type of sexually transmitted infection contracted. Some people may experience no symptoms at all. Some symptoms you may experience include:

  • Skin rash or severe itching
  • Painful urination
  • Redness around the genitals
  • Sudden sores, bumps, or warts around the anus, mouth, or genitals
  • General aches and pains
  • Fever
  • Discharge from the genitals
  • Jaundice
  • Painful sex
  • Sudden bleeding from the vagina, irregular from monthly period

If you believe that you currently have or may have a sexually transmitted disease, get tested or schedule an appointment with a physician.

Treatments for Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually transmitted infections caused by bacteria are easier to treat than others. STDs caused by viruses may not be curable, but they can be managed. Seeing your doctor as soon as possible is the best way to ensure good health.

Treatments for STDs usually rely on antibiotics, often in one dose. Antibiotics can cure a variety of infections caused by parasites and bacteria, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. When you start antibiotics, make sure you take them through their full course and abstain from sex during the treatment. If you don’t think you can take the prescribed medication, talk to your doctor, who may prescribe a different treatment for a shorter, simpler regimen.

Antiviral drugs form a foundation for daily suppressive therapy. They can reduce the potential recurrences of herpes and keep HIV in check, though it is still possible to pass both on to your partner. Starting your antiviral treatment sooner raises the chance of drastically lowering your virus count.

Preventing Sexually Transmitted Diseases

You can enjoy a healthy sex life without needing to worry about STDs. The best way to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections is to get tested. Get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea every year if you have HIV or are a sexually active woman or a man who has sex with other men. You should get tested at least once for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis. There is no screening for HPV in men, but women should receive a pap test every three years or an HPV test every five years.

Furthermore, commit to safe sex practices with your partner. That includes using dental dams, condoms, and other forms of birth control, but it also means communicating with your partner about the sexual activities you are both okay with and telling each other if something doesn’t feel right.

If you experience any symptoms of UTI, yeast infection, or STD, call or book online with PlushCare to set up a phone appointment with a top U.S. doctor today, and/or order a STD test now.

Read more of our UTI series:

Can you have sex with a UTI?
Natural Remedies for UTI
Recurrent UTIs in Women: Treatment and Prevention

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Margaret A Spera, NP, APRN

Margaret A Spera, NP, APRN

Margaret Spera is a Connecticut-based nurse practitioner. She has worked in hospital settings, family practices and senior care facilities for over 40 years.

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