Bladder infection vs. UTI: What's the difference?

Time saver 4 min read

So you keep running to the bathroom to pee—or setting up shop closer to the bathroom—only to produce a few drops? And on top of that dissatisfying feeling, you’re left with a burning sensation and a sense of anxiety? You might have a bladder infection or a urinary tract infection (UTI). But don’t panic. They’re very common and can be easily treated online.

Is a bladder infection the same as a urinary tract infection?

Often, these terms are used interchangeably. But, there is a distinction to be made between the two.

Bladder infections are a type of UTI, but not all urinary tract infections are bladder infections. A UTI is defined as an infection in one or more places in the urinary tract—the ureters, kidneys, urethra, and/or bladder. A bladder infection is just a UTI that’s located in the bladder.

How can you tell the difference between a bladder infection and a UTI?

That said, there’s a reason these terms are used interchangeably so often. The symptoms are largely the same:

  • Burning sensation while peeing
  • A feeling of urgency to pee, but very little urine comes out
  • Pelvic pain

The most common UTI is a bladder infection, so odds are if you have a UTI, it’s occurring in your bladder.

But, there are some key differences between the two. UTIs and bladder infections are relatively simple to treat, but other kinds of UTIs can have different symptoms:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Lower back pain that feels more severe than a bladder infection
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Pinkish or reddish urine
  • Burning when peeing

If you sense you have a UTI, it’s important to get treated quickly to prevent a spread to your kidneys.

How do you get a bladder infection or UTI?

UTIs happen when bacteria enters the urethra and spreads. Urinary tract infections are fairly common and can happen to anyone, but the following risk factors can increase your chances of getting one:

  • The sex you're assigned at birth—people assigned female at birth have shorter urethras than those assigned male at birth, making it easier for bacteria to travel to the bladder and kidneys.
  • Hormone changes—menopause, pregnancy, or just that time of the month can increase your risk of infection.
  • Diaphragms and spermicides—these forms of contraception can kill off good bacteria, increasing the bad bacteria which can find its way to the urethra.
  • Genetic predisposition—That’s right! It could just be a genetic thing. Genetics play a role in the shape and size of your urinary tract making some individuals more prone to infections.
  • Sexual activity—Pee as soon as possible after sex to prevent UTIs.
  • Hygiene habits—Bubble baths and scented feminine products might feel like self-care, but they can cause irritation that leads to UTIs. Also, always make sure you’re wiping front to back!
  • Chronic illness—Illness that causes changes to your immune system, like diabetes, can make you more prone to UTIs.
  • “Holding it”—No need to be a hero. When you have to go to the bathroom, you should go.
  • Not drinking enough water—Add it to the list of reasons you should drink more water! Staying hydrated can help stave off infections.

UTIs are very common, and there’s research that shows if you’ve had a UTI, you’re likely to get another one in your lifetime. It’s possible you could have one without even knowing why. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms, treat them promptly —and give yourself grace if they recur.

What should I do if I think I have a bladder infection or UTI?

Because UTIs are bacterial infections, you’ll most likely need a prescription for antibiotics from a doctor. But, when you’re running to the bathroom every few minutes in pain, the idea of sitting in traffic—or even being stuck in a car for more than a minute—sounds not only excruciating but maybe impossible.

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Thankfully, Virtuwell can treat you online without a urine sample—and without having to leave the comfort of your home. Research shows that a urine culture isn’t necessary to treat common bladder infections. Just fill out a survey about your symptoms and medical history, and one of Virtuwell’s certified nurse practitioners will review your answers to rule out something more serious, provide you with a diagnosis and personalized treatment plan, and send your prescription to a pharmacy of your choice.

Important notes for UTI treatment

To ensure your UTI is completely gone, it’s important to finish your course of antibiotics—even if it doesn’t burn when you pee anymore. If you don’t, you risk developing an antibiotic-resistant UTI, which makes your UTI more complicated to treat.

If you’ve dealt with bladder infections or UTIs before, you’ve likely heard about home remedies—such as cranberry juice and drinking a lot of water—as antibiotic alternatives. Though “home remedies” may sound like an easier shortcut, there isn’t any evidence that shows they will treat a bacterial infection that’s already present. Though things like staying hydrated may be recommended alongside antibiotics as a part of your treatment plan, they don’t substitute the effectiveness of antibiotics.

How to get help 24/7

The sooner you can get treated for your UTI, the better. If you’re feeling the burning and the urgency, it’s time to start your visit. The longer you wait, the more chance the infection has of traveling to your kidneys. But don’t let that scare you! You can start an online visit at Virtuwell 24/7—yes, even in the middle of the night when your bladder won’t let you sleep—and UTIs are very treatable.

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