We can all agree that both UTIs and yeast infections are unpleasant and uncomfortable. But oftentimes, the symptoms of each infection can overlap and you may struggle to tell which infection you have. Let’s go over the similarities, the causes of each, and how to distinguish between a yeast infection and a UTI.
UTI or yeast infection?
UTIs and yeast infections are very different. UTIs result from bacteria growing in the urinary tract and can be caused by a number of things including improper wiping (back to front), wearing a wet bathing suit for too long, and excess moisture surrounding your genitals. The most common symptoms of a UTI are a frequent urge to urinate and a burning sensation when you do. By no means is a UTI on its own considered “contagious.” But that doesn't mean the bacteria won’t spread. It is possible to pass the bacteria that caused the UTI to your partner and vice versa, which is why doctors recommend waiting to have sex.
A yeast infection is the result of an overgrowth of a fungus called candida. Candida lives healthily in your body all the time but can begin to cause problems if it multiplies. Things like stress, lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and a hormonal imbalance can cause the candida fungus to multiply and lead to infection. Also, certain antibiotics have been found to cause yeast infections. Yeast infections are not considered STIs because other things can cause them, but it is possible to get a yeast infection from a partner who has one.
Symptoms of yeast infection in women
It’s estimated that 75% of us will get a yeast infection at some point in your life. The symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are primarily characterized by itching, burning, and a change in the consistency of your discharge. With a yeast infection, your discharge will be thick, clumpy, and white (some compare it to cottage cheese) but is usually odorless. Yeast infections also cause your vagina to swell, usually from the itching.
During pregnancy, estrogen levels increase and the balance of bacteria and yeast in your vagina is altered. Because of this, it’s very common to experience a yeast infection when you’re pregnant. Additionally, postpartum yeast infections are normal and can be attributed to certain antibiotics, vaginal birth, and hormonal changes.
While you can test for yeast infections at home and there are plenty of drugstore products to treat one, it is important to consult your primary care provider if you suspect you may have a yeast infection. Additionally, there are proactive and natural steps you can take to help prevent yeast infections. This includes avoiding scented products in your vaginal area, avoiding douching, and making sure to wipe front to back after using the bathroom. Some experts say that eating greek yogurt can help protect against yeast infections because it contains live bacteria that reduce the amount of yeast in your body, creating a healthy environment in your vagina. This bacteria is called lactobacillus and is a “good” bacteria that live in your body. You can also buy probiotic supplements for the same purpose.
Suppositories are an effective and common treatment option for yeast infections and can be bought over-the-counter. They are solid, egg-shaped balls of medicine that you insert into your vagina using a plastic applicator once a day. The length of the course of suppositories depends on the brand, but they usually take 3-7 days to cure a yeast infection. There are also antifungal creams that work similar to suppositories, but suppositories provide symptom relief sooner.
Your primary care provider might prescribe a one-time dose of fluconazole if your infection is severe. Fluconazole works by eradicating fungus and yeast throughout your whole body but can cause side-effects like headaches and stomach pain. You should not take fluconazole to treat a yeast infection when pregnant as it can lead to birth defects and miscarriage. Additionally, prescription pills can not always be effective against all kinds of yeast, making other treatment options preferable.
Yeast infections are not typically dangerous as long as you treat them properly. With treatment, the infection can heal in as little as three days. Left untreated, the fungus can circulate throughout your body and cause more serious complications. If you have a yeast infection, try to refrain from having sex until it heals to avoid giving it to your partner and worsening the infection. Try avoiding products like scented tampons, pads, and certain soaps as the chemicals within them can throw off your PH balance.
What does a UTI Look Like?
UTIs happen when bacteria enter the urethra, travel up the urinary tract, and multiply. As the bacteria spread, your urinary tract becomes inflamed and infected. 90% of the time, this bacteria is E. coli. E. coli normally lives without harm in our intestinal tract but becomes harmful once it enters the urinary tract.
Unlike yeast infections, vaginal itching is not a common symptom of UTIs. Instead, you’ll experience a painful burning sensation when you urinate and a frequent urge to urinate. You might notice that your urine is slightly cloudy, or even bloody, and smells like ammonia. UTIs don’t usually affect your discharge but might turn it a yellowish-green color.
A UTI left untreated can occasionally go away on its own, but often it will only continue to get worse. With antibiotics, UTI symptoms should start going away after 24-48 hours. When a UTI is left completely untreated, it can spread and cause infections in other parts of the body, which can become dangerous. An untreated UTI can lead to a kidney infection, which is much more invasive and painful than a UTI.
Most doctors recommend waiting to have sex until after your UTI is healed because that will cause further irritation and make the infection worse. Listen to your body and try to refrain from sex until symptoms are gone. If you are someone who gets UTIs frequently, there are plenty of safe and effective supplements you can buy to lower your chances of getting a UTI and relieve your symptoms.
It’s never fun to play guessing games to figure out what is going on in your body. At Stix, we believe that knowledge is power and the more we know what is going on in our bodies, the better. Head to the Stix Library for the inside scoop on all things women’s health.