Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are both common health concerns, but have you ever wondered if a UTI is an STI? Both of these conditions can cause similar symptoms, so it can be useful to learn how to distinguish between them.
Let’s look at some of the similarities and differences between UTIs and STIs.
Is a UTI an STI?
To understand the difference between these two conditions, let’s look at their definitions first.
What is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is an infection that affects any part of your urinary system.
UTIs can affect any part of this system, but the most common type is a bladder infection, also known as cystitis. These infections are typically milder, but they can spread to the kidneys and cause a more serious condition, called pyelonephritis. If left untreated, pyelonephritis can lead to complications such as septic shock
According to the Mayo Clinic, UTIs generally occur when bacteria enter the urinary system through the urethra and start to multiply inside the bladder. Under normal circumstances, there are no bacteria in the bladder, and their presence leads to infection.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, lower UTI (cystitis) symptoms can include:
- Painful urination (dysuria)
- Burning sensation when you urinate
- Feeling the urge to urinate frequently, even with an empty bladder
- Bloody or cloudy urine
- Foul smelling urine
- Incontinence or urine leakage
Pyelonephritis can cause the above symptoms, in addition to:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Lower back or flank pain
Most cases of UTI are caused by bacteria that travel to the urethra from the nearby anus. This makes women more susceptible to UTIs, since their urethral opening sits closer to the anal sphincter than it does in men. The female urethra is also much shorter, so germs have to travel a shorter distance to reach the bladder. It has been estimated that 1 in 5 women will have at least one UTI during her lifetime.
According to the CDC, risk factors that increase the likelihood of getting a UTI include:
- History of previous UTIs
- Anatomical abnormalities in the urinary system
- Having a new sexual partner
- Poor hygiene
- Recent antibiotic use
- Diabetes or high blood sugar
What is an STI?
Sexually transmitted infection (STI) is a term used to refer to a wide variety of diseases that can be transmitted through sexual contact. This includes oral, vaginal, or anal sex.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 1 million STIs are acquired each day across the world. Some STIs can be treated with simple medications, whereas others have no definite cure yet. However, they can still be managed to ensure a good prognosis. If left untreated, STIs can lead to varying health problems and complications.
The most common STIs include:
Similarities and differences between STIs and UTIs
Some STIs can produce symptoms that are similar to the symptoms of a UTI. These STIs include:
The most common symptoms that these urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted infections have in common include:
- Burning, painful sensation when you urinate
- Urge to urinate frequently
- Pain or tenderness in your lower abdomen
However, other symptoms are more common in STIs, and they could serve to differentiate between these conditions, including:
- Abnormal genital discharge
- Genital rash, lesions, or sores
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin
- Pain during intercourse
- Spotting or bleeding between periods
- Heavy, painful periods
Can UTIs be sexually transmitted?
Although urinary tract infections aren’t considered to be sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), however, sex can make UTIs more likely in certain cases.
The pathogens that cause UTIs can’t be spread from one person to another, but urinary infections can still be related to sex. The friction caused during penetrative sex can make it easier for bacteria to travel from your perianal region to your urethra. This doesn’t just happen during penetrative sex — according to Planned Parenthood, other sexual activities such as using your fingers or sex toys can also increase the risk of getting a UTI.
You can take some steps to prevent UTIs, including:
- Increase your fluid intake, particularly water
- Urinate immediately after having sex to reduce the risk of bacteria traveling up your urethra
- Don’t hold the urge to urinate — holding urine in can increase the risk of UTIs, so you should try to go to the bathroom as soon as possible when you feel the need to
- Maintain good intimate hygiene, and wipe front to back after using the restroom
Certain STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, can occasionally cause UTIs. In these cases, UTI symptoms can be a consequence of a sexually transmitted infection.
It’s important to seek medical attention if you notice any concerning symptoms that could point to a UTI or an STI. Depending on the origin of your symptoms, your physician may perform a physical examination and order different tests, such as traditional or rapid STD tests.
Fortunately, most UTIs and STIs can be cleared with a simple course of antibiotics. The large majority of UTIs resolve quickly after starting antibiotics, and they don’t cause long-lasting health consequences.
- Urinary tract infection (UTI) - mayoclinic.org
- Urinary Tract Infection - cdc.gov
- Urinary Tract Infections - my.clevelandclinic.org
- Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) - who.int
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) - plannedparenthood.org