Skip to main content
Medically Approved

UTIs vs. bladder infections: What’s the difference?

twitter share buttonfacebook share buttonlinkedin share buttonemail article button
Bladder infectionsOther UTIsDiagnosisPreventionSummary
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can come in different forms, including bladder infections. Both conditions have similar treatments but can have different symptoms.
Medically reviewed by Roger Bielinski, MD
Written by Lily Frew
Updated on

UTIs are a kind of infection caused by bacteria in the urinary tract, which consists of the kidneys, bladder, and urethra, and is responsible for removing waste as urine. There are different types of UTIs depending on the affected area.

Bladder infections are one kind of UTI, and they’re the most common form. They’re also sometimes known as cystitis. They can cause several uncomfortable symptoms, like burning when you pee and a persistent urge to urinate.

Knowing more about bladder infections and other UTIs can help you identify them and seek treatment as quickly as possible to find relief from the uncomfortable symptoms.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article uses the terms “men” and “women” when discussing people who are assigned male or female at birth, respectively, to reflect language that appears in source materials.

Bladder infections

A woman with a UTI or bladder infection sitting on a toilet shown through an open bathroom door
EASY 2 SHOOT/Stocksy United

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, bladder infections are the most common form of UTI. They mostly affect people assigned female at birth because of differences in anatomy, but anyone can develop bladder infections.

You might also hear healthcare professionals refer to a bladder infection as cystitis.

The main cause of a bladder infection, like all UTIs, is bacteria. This bacteria enters the urethra, or the tube that urine travels through to exit the body, and can travel up it to infect the bladder.

The main symptoms of a bladder infection include:

  • burning sensation when you pee
  • frequent need to pee, even when you have recently emptied your bladder
  • pain in your pelvis
  • blood in your urine

Other UTIs

While bladder infections are the most common form of UTI, there are two other main types.

The first is called urethritis, which is a UTI that affects the urethra. It’s similar to a bladder infection, where you also experience pain and discomfort when urinating, but the end of your urethra (where urine leaves the body) might also itch or feel irritated. You might also experience discharge from your urethra.

While urethritis is also due to bacteria, it’s more commonly associated with sexually transmitted infections. Another key difference is that urethritis is more common than bladder infections in men.

The other kind of UTI is a kidney infection, which is the most serious form. They can result from a bacterial bladder infection spreading to the kidneys. According to the Urology Care Foundation, 1 in 30 UTIs become a kidney infection. They’re also more common in women but can affect anyone.

Alongside the typical symptoms of bladder infections, you’re likely to experience other, more severe symptoms with a kidney infection. These include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • blood in your urine
  • fever and chills
  • pain in your abdomen or back

It’s important to speak with a healthcare professional if you experience these symptoms, as kidney infections can become severe if left untreated. If the bacteria reaches your bloodstream, it can lead to sepsis, a condition caused by your immune system reacting to an infection.

Diagnosis

To determine which kind of UTI you have, a doctor will consider all of your symptoms, along with specific risk factors you may have for each kind, including pregnancy.

A doctor can also diagnose UTIs by analyzing a urine sample. A healthcare professional may request a urine sample and check it for white blood cells, which are a sign of infection.

They might also test it for bacteria, which can tell them what kind of UTI you have. Around 75–95% of bladder infections are due to a bacteria called E. coli, while urethritis is more often caused by other bacteria that are transmitted sexually.

Treatment

As UTIs and bladder infections are mostly caused by bacteria, treatment usually includes antibiotics. Due to the nature of bladder infections, they’re generally treated with a short course of oral antibiotics.

Kidney infections are a bit more difficult to treat, and you may need antibiotics for longer or have a doctor give it to you through your veins (intravenously).

Some common antibiotics to treat UTIs include:

If you need help covering the cost of medications, the free Optum Perks Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.

Pill bottle with text 'Starts at $4'

Free prescription coupons

Seriously … free. Explore prices that beat the competition 70% of the time.

Get free card

Prevention

While antibiotics are necessary to cure an infection once it’s started, some home remedies might help clear it faster and prevent future infections. The most common way to do this is by drinking plenty of water. This can help flush out the bacteria from your urinary tract.

For example, one 2019 study gave a drinking schedule to care home residents and found that UTIs that required medical treatment reduced by 58% in the participants.

Cranberry is widely believed to be a natural remedy for UTIs. Some research finds that cranberry juice can stop the bacteria from staying in your bladder.

There is no evidence that it can cure an infection once you have it, but it might be able to prevent further infections. For example, one 2016 clinical trial found that drinking cranberry juice daily over 24 weeks reduced the number of UTI episodes by 39%.

But the use of cranberry for UTIs remains controversial, with some research finding that the evidence for it isn’t strong enough.

Summary

UTIs are common bacterial infections that can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms. Bladder infections are one kind of UTI, but not all UTIs are bladder infections. Other UTIs include kidney infections and urethritis.

Bladder infections usually result from a type of bacteria called E. coli. Urethritis is usually sexually transmitted, while kidney infections can be caused by other bacteria or a bladder infection that hasn’t been treated.

As the cause is usually bacterial, antibiotics are the treatment of choice for UTIs. Staying hydrated is also important as it can help prevent future infections.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

Article resources