Yeast infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs) can have similar symptoms, but they’re actually very different infections. In this blog, we’ll break down the differences between the two infections and several related infections that fall under the umbrella term vaginitis.
What is vaginitis?
Vaginitis is a term for inflammation or irritation of the vulva or vagina. Vaginitis is usually caused by common infections such as vaginal yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted disease, also causes vaginitis.
Not all vaginitis, though, is caused by an infection. Vaginitis may be caused by lack of estrogen, for instance, and is called atrophic vaginitis. It is usually caused by hormone changes seen with menopause.
Vaginitis may also be caused by irritation due to sexual activity. This type of irritation is not caused by a sexually transmitted infection, but your partner’s natural chemistry can influence the balance of yeast and bacteria in your vagina.
Allergies or irritants can lead to vaginitis, too. These irritants can include ingredients in lubricants, condoms, sex toys, vaginal deodorants, bath products, scented feminine hygiene products, spermicide and even laundry detergents or fabric softeners.
What is a yeast infection?
A yeast infection occurs when the vagina’s chemistry is disrupted. Some causes of this disruption include antibiotics and other drugs, pregnancy, diabetes and a compromised immune system. When this happens, naturally occurring yeast called Candida can grow too much and cause irritation.
While genital yeast infections most commonly occur in women, they can also cause inflammation of the head of the penis, called balanitis. Yeast infections can also occur in the mouth, throat or on the tongue. This is known as thrush.
Symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include thick, clumpy discharge and itching, burning and redness of the vulva. Some women may also experience a burning sensation when urinating, which is one reason a yeast infection can be mistaken for a UTI.
Yeast infections can be treated with antifungal medicine, which can be obtained over-the-counter or with a doctor’s prescription. It’s important to finish whatever course of medication you take, even if your symptoms go away.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is a form of vaginitis that occurs when normal bacteria in the vagina are thrown off balance. Anything that changes the chemistry of the vagina can cause too much growth of bacteria, leading to infection. Like yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection, but it is more common in women with multiple or new sexual partners.
Bacterial vaginosis doesn’t always have symptoms, but when it does symptoms may include a strong-smelling, “fishy” discharge, which can be white, gray or greenish. Bacterial vaginosis can also cause irritation, itching or discomfort, including a burning sensation when urinating.
Bacterial vaginosis is treated with prescription antibiotic pills, creams or gels.
What is trichomoniasis?
While trichomoniasis is considered a kind of vaginitis, it’s different in that it is sexually transmitted. This is because trichomoniasis (or trich, as it’s commonly known) is caused by a parasite that is carried in sexual fluids, including semen, pre-ejaculate and vaginal fluids.
The infection is often asymptomatic, so many carriers do not know they have it. When trichomoniasis symptoms do occur, they typically include vaginal or urethral discharge with an unpleasant smell, painful urination or intercourse, vulvar burning, itching, redness or swelling and a burning sensation after ejaculation.
Trich will not go away on its own, so it’s important to get treated before you
What is a UTI?
So, if a UTI is different than vaginitis, what is it? A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract, which includes the bladder and urethra.
UTIs are very common and occur when bacteria (usually from the colon) enter the urethra. UTIs are not sexually transmitted but they can be associated with sexual activity. During sexual activity, for instance, bacteria from you or your partner’s fingers, genitals, anus or sex toys make contact with the urethra. Chlamydia and gonorrhea, two common STDs, can also infect the urinary tract.
UTI symptoms including burning with urination, a frequent need to urinate, bad smelling or cloudy urine, bloody urine and pain in the lower belly, back or sides.
If left untreated, a UTI can lead to a kidney infection, so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as you experience symptoms. UTIs cannot be treated with over-the-counter medicine: The only treatment for a UTI is antibiotics prescribed by a doctor or nurse.