Yeast Infection vs UTI: How To Tell The Difference

People often mistake urinary tract infections (UTIs) and yeast infections. 

Even doctors can be confused sometimes because they sometimes have similar signs and symptoms. 

They are both uncomfortable conditions. They both can trigger pain and urinary problems. 

The pattern of infection is similar, too. But they are different.

So, what are yeast infections? What are urinary tract infections? How are they different? 

After reading this article, you will be able to differentiate a yeast infection vs UTI and understand the most important highlights of each one.

What is a yeast infection?

Yeast infections are caused by the fungus Candida. It lives in the mouth, intestines, vagina, and other body parts. You may not notice you have Candida in these places because there is no overgrowth, and it’s usually harmless. 

But when it gets out of control, it causes yeast infections. It grows more rapidly than it can be controlled and starts causing trouble.

There are different types of yeast and yeast infections. Some occur after an injury or surgery. Others are due to an underlying condition such as diabetes or other health problems. It also depends on what microorganism is involved. The most common is Candida albicans.

When people talk about yeast infections, they usually refer to genitourinary infections. For example, vulvovaginal candidiasis and Candida balanitis. 

In other words, yeast infections in the vagina and the penis. But you can also have a yeast infection in the skin and all types of mucosa, including the mouth and the respiratory tract (1).

What is a UTI?

UTI refers to urinary tract infections. It is a broad term that includes bacterial infections, fungi, and other microorganisms. Bacteria are always around us and are the most common triggers of a UTI.

Like yeast infections, there are many types of UTIs depending on the microorganism involved and the area of the urinary tract that is affected by the disease. 

The most common division is upper and lower urinary tract infections, depending on whether the bacteria are located in the kidneys or the urinary bladder.

The most common upper urinary tract infection is known as pyelonephritis. This is when the bacteria invade the kidneys and cause the kidney’s tissue to become inflamed and infected. The most common lower urinary tract infection is cystitis, which involves bacterial infections in the urinary bladder (2).

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Symptoms – yeast infection vs UTI

Yeast infection symptoms

Vulvovaginal candidiasis and Candida balanitis are arguably the most common types of urogenital yeast infection, and when people talk about yeast infection, they usually refer to a vaginal overgrowth. 

The most important signs and symptoms of vulvovaginal candidiasis include (1):

  • Vulvar pruritus: This is arguably one of the most important symptoms of candidiasis. Itchiness can be very intense, and many patients reach the doctor’s office with noticeable scratch marks.
  • Vaginal discharge: Vaginal candidiasis causes a thick white discharge that looks like cottage cheese. Compared to that, does a UTI cause a similar discharge? It would be a very rare symptom in a UTI but is widespread in candidiasis.
  • Dysuria: This can be confused as UTI vaginal pain, but it is not so. Patients feel burning when urinating, but it is not because they have a urinary tract infection.
  • Dyspareunia: It means pain when you’re having sexual intercourse and is a prevalent symptom, too.

The other type of yeast infection is Candida balanitis, which triggers these symptoms (3):

  • Penile pruritus: In males, candida triggers itchiness in the affected area, including the penis.
  • Whitish patches: They have a very distinct form and distribution and are very important to diagnose the disease.
  • Penile vesicles with whitish exudate: Close examination will also reveal small vesicles with an infectious exudate.

Urinary tract infection symptoms

On the other hand, we also mentioned two types of urinary tract infections. They both have different signs and symptoms, and it is worthwhile to evaluate them separately. 

The most common is cystitis, and it causes the following signs and symptoms (2):

  • Dysuria: It is a sensation of pain or discomfort when urinating. Compared to a yeast infection, this usually feels like a burning pain when you pee. But can UTIs cause itching as candidiasis? A UTI is not likely to trigger itching, but sometimes it can happen.
  • Increased urinary frequency: A yeast infection may not increase urination frequency, but it is one of the most important symptoms of a UTI.
  • Urinary urgency: You will feel a sudden urge to urinate that does not build up progressively as it usually happens.
  • Urinary hesitancy: It isn’t easy to maintain the urinary stream. It’s like you’re urinating in intervals.

These symptoms are quite different than those in pyelonephritis, which include (4):

  • Fever: This is a more complicated infection and is usually severe. Thus, the body responds by rising body temperature.
  • Flank pain: The kidneys are located on your lower back at each side of the spine. The area will be tender and trigger dull pain.
  • Nausea and vomiting

Causes – yeast infection vs UTI

Perhaps one of the most critical differences between a yeast infection vs UTI is the origin of the disease. As mentioned above, yeast infections are triggered by a type of fungi. Bacteria trigger most urinary tract infections.

Causes of yeast infections

Candida species is the most common yeast that infects the vagina, skin, and mucosa. These yeast-like fungi are found as commensal flora all over the body and can be found in different parts of the hospital. 

The human body responds to Candida infections and controls their growth through many natural defenses. When they are lost or weakened, Candida turns from commensal flora to an invader pathogen. 

The most important host defense mechanisms against Candida albicans and similar fungi include (1):

  • Mucocutaneous barriers: They are natural barriers that divide the outside from the inside of the body. For example, the skin and the mucosa of the vagina and penis. When these barriers are lost, Candida species can colonize the area. For example, through a wound, after burns or ulcerations, or in patients with an intravenous catheter.
  • White blood cells: Phagocytic cells, polymorphonuclear leukocytes, and monocytes are probably the most important white blood cells that counter the overgrowth of Candida. If there’s something wrong with them or they no longer respond appropriately, the fungi proliferate and colonize the skin and mucosa.
  • Humoral immunity: The complement and immunoglobulins are also a part of our body defenses. These are substances that mark Candida species to be attacked by white blood cells. They are also important to attack bacteria and fungi without any intermediate through something known as a complement cascade. When these defenses are lost, we are prone to yeast overgrowth.
  • Healthy bacterial flora: We have healthy flora all over the body, not only in the gut. The vagina, penis, urethra, and respiratory tract have their own healthy bacterial flora. These bacteria are harmless and interact with the body by reducing the space for pathogens to grow. They compete with Candida and other species to avoid infections. When healthy bacterial flora is weak or lost, Candida and other pathogens can colonize the available surface.

Causes of UTIs

What about UTIs? While yeast infections are usually triggered by the same fungi, UTIs are very broad and have more than one likely culprit. 

The most common is Escherichia coli, a widespread bacterium in the gastrointestinal tract. In around 70 to 90% of cases, E. coli is the infecting bacteria in UTIs. In other cases, it can be a Klebsiella or Proteus species, Enterobacteriaceae such as Enterococcus faecalis, or yeast.

These are the most common mechanisms of UTI infections (2):

  • A urinary catheter: UTIs are more common in patients with an indwelling catheter or those who require urogenital manipulation. The bacteria is inoculated into the bladder and starts growing in this environment immediately.
  • Unprotected sexual intercourse: When you have a sexually-transmitted infection, it can also affect your urinary tract. Unprotected sex will increase the risk of UTIs.
  • Abnormalities in the urinary tract: Sometimes, patients have a problem in the urinary tract that triggers urine reflux or a stagnant flow of urine. This will create a perfect medium for bacterial growth.
  • Renal transplantations: UTIs are the most common complication of renal transplantation. That’s because renal transplantation patients receive immunodepressant drugs, and the urinary system is directly involved.
  • Kidney stones: When a kidney stone moves through the ureters and the urethra, it rubs against the mucosa and causes scratches and wounds. They can become infected at any time and trigger a UTI.
  • Chronic disease: Patients with type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases usually have a low defense that increases the risk of UTIs and yeast infections.

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When to see a doctor

We recommend visiting a doctor if you are unsure about your symptoms or suspect that you have either yeast infections or UTIs. Even if you’re capable of diagnosing yourself, only a doctor will give you the best course of treatment.

Diagnosis – yeast infection vs UTI

Diagnosing a yeast infection

Yeast infections are usually diagnosed with a physical exam and a medical history. When doctors evaluate the lesions and learn about the patient’s symptoms, that’s usually enough to make the diagnosis. 

They can also obtain a sample through scraping and performing cell culture, but they are nonspecific because, as mentioned above, yeast is commonly found in healthy tissues, too.

Diagnosing a UTI

Urinary tract infections are so common that all doctors will be able to diagnose them with a medical history and one or two lab tests. 

The most common lab tests are urinalysis and a white blood cell count. They will perform a urine culture with an antibiogram to determine the best antibiotic treatment in more complicated cases.

Treatment – yeast infection vs UTI

Treating yeast infections

Vaginal yeast infections are typically treated with antifungal medication, including topical creams and oral medications. Your doctor may also prescribe a vaginal suppository to help treat the infection. 

Vaginal yeast infections are usually not severe but can be uncomfortable. It is important to start treatment as soon as possible to reduce the chance of spreading to other tissues.

Treating UTIs

Many treatment options are available for UTIs, and your doctor will choose the antibiotic depending on the various features of the bacteria. 

For example, whether you have nitrates in your urinalysis and the most likely complications you are experiencing. Cipro is probably the most common antibiotic for UTI, but it has a very high resistance rate. Thus, a doctor’s advice is fundamental for the best results.

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Can you have a UTI and yeast infection at the same time?

You can have more than one microbe colonizing the vagina or the urinary tract. It is not only that you can have both UTIs and yeast infections at the same time. 

Yeast infections can be a type of UTI because yeast can also colonize your urinary tract and trigger yeast infections in the urethra or the urinary bladder.

But even if we reduce the concept of yeast infections to genital infections in the vagina, penis, and associated skin and mucosa, it is possible to have both conditions simultaneously. 

A woman can have vulvovaginal candidiasis and a UTI by E. coli at the same time. In those cases, patients may describe the problem as an itchy UTI.

How to reduce your risk of UTIs and yeast infections

After learning about the cause of UTIs and yeast infections, it is a bit intuitive to know how to reduce the risk. 

Preventing UTIs

The most effective prevention strategies to reduce the risk of UTIs include:

  • Drink enough water each day
  • Be extra careful if you need to use an indwelling urinary catheter to empty your bladder
  • Stop using spermicides and diaphragms as contraception methods if you have recurrent UTIs
  • Consider estrogen replacement therapy with your doctor if you’re in menopause
  • Void after intercourse
  • Drink cranberry juice

Preventing yeast infections

A few measures can also be taken to reduce the risk of yeast infections:

  • Wear cotton underwear and avoid using very tight clothing
  • Use antibiotics when instructed, and do not self-treat any disease with antibiotics
  • Treat your chronic condition promptly to avoid its consequences on your immune system
  • Increase your healthy flora with oral or vaginally administered lactobacilli
  • Avoid vaginal douches, as they take away most of your healthy flora

Other conditions that cause similar symptoms

When diagnosing a UTI or a yeast infection, doctors will likely rule out other diagnoses, such as:

  • Herpes simplex
  • Urethritis
  • Vaginitis
  • Chlamydia
  • Prostatitis
  • Prostate cancer
  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia

Conclusion

Urinary tract infections and yeast infections usually refer to different things. The former includes any condition that affects the urinary tract, including Candida infections in the bladder. The latter is a fungal infection that affects the skin and mucosa and usually refers to vaginal candidiasis or vaginal yeast infections.

If you have symptoms of either UTIs or yeast infections, you should talk to your doctor about them. 

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Sources

  1. Jeanmonod, R., & Jeanmonod, D. (2021). Vaginal candidiasis. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459317/
  2. Bono, M. J., & Reygaert, W. C. (2021). Urinary tract infection. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470195/
  3. Perkins, O. S., & Cortes, S. (2021). Balanoposthitis. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553050/
  4. Sabih, A., & Leslie, S. W. (2022). Complicated urinary tract infections. In StatPearls [internet]. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK436013/

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