Urinary Tract Infections (or UTIs) are commonly diagnosed in thousands of people every year; the same is true with the most common Sexually Transmitted Diseases (or STDs) like gonorrhea and chlamydia.
The symptoms of many common STDs can cross over and be similar to some of the symptoms you might experience if you have a UTI. This can be worrying for anyone who isn’t sure which they have: Sexually transmitted infections and conditions can be more serious than your routine UTI and they are more likely to transfer from one person to another.
UTI or STD: How to Tell the Difference
Here’s how to tell the difference between a UTI and STD – and when to see a doctor.
What is UTI?
A UTI is an infection caused by bacteria that get into any of the four parts of the urinary tract (urethra, bladder, ureter, kidneys) and then multiply.
Each component of the urinary tract performs a vital function:
- The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside the body.
- Bladder stores urine until it goes to the urethra.
- The ureter is the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
- Kidneys filter waste from the blood to produce urine.
The bacteria known as Escherichia coli (E. coli) are responsible for about 90% of all UTI cases. E. coli is usually found naturally on the colon or around the anuses of humans and animals.
Female urethras are much closer to the anus than in male anatomy, resulting in UTIs being more prominent among women. The female urethra is also much shorter, which means bacteria have less distance to travel to reach the bladder, again making females more susceptible to UTIs. It is estimated that nearly half of all women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime.
What is an STD?
An STD is a sexually-transmitted disease that is transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal sex, intravenous drug use, or through non-sexual contacts such as childbirth or breastfeeding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 19 million reported STD cases each year in the United States. STDs are common and it is possible to be infected without being aware, because many STDs do not display obvious symptoms. Getting tested for STDs once or twice every year is recommended for sexually-active people. Regular STD testing is a great way to protect your sexual health as well as the health of your partner(s).
So, How Do You Get an STD?
STDs can occur in a myriad of ways:
- Having unprotected sex with someone who has also been affected.
- Eating contaminated food that has been contaminated with fecal matter can potentially transfer hepatitis A (HAV).
- Skin-to-skin contact with someone who has been affected by HPV or herpes can increase the risk of contracting either infection.
- Sharing sheets, towels, or clothes (especially if they’ve been damp within the hour) can increase the chance of spreading Trichomoniasis.
- Sharing needles or even razors, which cause the risk of breaking the skin and mixing blood, can lead to catching, developing, and the passing on of STDs.
Similarities and Differences between UTIs and STDs
UTIs and STDs share very common symptoms and are misdiagnosed more often than you may think. According to the American Society for Microbiology, 64 percent of the patients with an STI (sexually transmitted infection) were actually diagnosed as having a UTI instead. This is problematic. Not only are women being needlessly prescribed a UTI treatment (which can lead to antibiotic resistance, making it harder to actually treat a UTI if she gets one in the future), but it may also cause an undiagnosed STD to develop into a more serious issue. In the beginning stages, many STDs are treatable, but the further they are allowed to progress, the more complicated and expensive treatment becomes.
Here are a few symptoms that UTIs and STDs share:
- Dysuria (painful or burning urination)
- Increased frequency of urination
- Urgency of urination
- Foul-smelling urine
- Cloudy or dark urine
- Pelvic pain
- Unusual discharge
Though Many STDs are asymptomatic (do not show symptoms), there are a few distinguishers that could clue you in as to whether your case is in your reproductive organs or in your urinary tract.
Here are a few symptoms that are more commonly associated with STDs and not UTIs:
- Vaginal blisters or blisters in the genital area
- Vaginal rash
- Pain during intercourse
- Bleeding or spotting between menstrual cycles
- Sore throat
- Swelling of joints
So, what should you do if you are experiencing any symptoms whatsoever?
Increasing, Worsening or Changing Symptoms
If any of your symptoms increase, worsen or change from the normal UTI symptoms, it might be an STD instead. If symptoms start to include ones like discharge or smell, it’s far more likely to be one of the most common STDs instead.
For any repeated urinary tract infections that appear to keep coming back, see your doctor: There are many things that can cause repeated UTIs. The same is true for any symptoms that can point to more than just an STD: Again, see your doctor.
How to Check
The only way to know for sure if you have an STD rather than a UTI is to visit a medical clinic or anywhere you’re able to get tested or screened for STDs. It takes a simple test to figure out what you have – and usually a simple course of antibiotics to treat it. If you suspect that you have either, the best thing you can do is see a medical professional. Most STDs are curable with the correct treatment matched to the right condition.
Embarrassed? Don’t Be: It Can Be Dangerous
A lot of people don’t visit their doctor due to symptoms because they consider it potentially embarrassing. Don’t put it off! Both UTIs and STDs are easy to diagnose and just as easy to cure. Any waiting before you see your doctor has the potential to be more dangerous to you and your sexual partners, and not seeing a doctor at all could mean that your symptoms get worse.
Urgent Care Omaha Walk-In Clinics and in Bellevue, NE
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