Urinary tract infections (UTI) and yeast infections are two common and uncomfortable women’s issues you should know about. Even though these issues affect many women, most don’t talk openly about them.
Whether you’ve had one of these issues before or never experienced either one, here are some basic tips on how you can identify what’s bothering you. There are ways you can deal with these things at home, but you should also be aware of the signs that you should seek help from a physician.
What are the differences between these infections?
A UTI is any infection of the urinary system, which includes your kidneys, the ureter, which is the tube that connects your kidneys to your bladder, the bladder, and the urethra, the tube that takes your urine outside your body. Most UTIs are caused by infection in the lower part of the urinary tract, which means it typically affects the bladder and urethra.
On the other hand, a yeast infection is an overgrowth of yeast — which is a fungus called Candida albicans (most commonly) — in your vagina and in the tissues around the vagina.
How do these infections happen?
A UTI is a bacterial infection, usually E. coli, which naturally exists in your bowels and then contaminates the vaginal area. Some of the common causes that introduce bacteria from your intestines to the vaginal area are sexual intercourse, improper hygiene (this is why you should always wipe front to back), improper emptying of the bladder which can be caused by constipation and pregnancy, menopause, the use of condoms or diaphragms with spermicide and tampons.
Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of yeast, which occur naturally on your skin and mucous membranes, including the vagina. Typically, our body is really good at maintaining a proper balance between this yeast and the bacteria found in your intestines. However, certain situations allow the yeast to grow faster than usual which then leads to the vaginal itching and discharge. The most common cause is antibiotic use because this kills the “good” bacteria. Another one is lifestyle and clothing. Because yeast thrives in a warm, wet environments, wearing a bathing suit for too long or wearing tight, restrictive clothing can cause extra moisture and heat in the groin area which allows yeast to flourish.
What are the symptoms for a UTI and a yeast infection?
Symptoms of a UTI include:
- Pain when urinating that may feel like a burning sensation
- Need to urinate frequently
- Pressure in the lower abdomen or pelvic region and back
- Urine might be dark and cloudy or have blood in it
- Feeling of fatigue and body aches
- Severe symptoms like fever, chills, nausea and vomiting occur when the infection has reached your kidneys
- Symptoms are progressive and rarely happen all at once, unless you have a compromised immune system
Symptoms of a yeast infection include:
- Pain with urination; similar to the burning pain with a UTI
- Vaginal soreness, itching or redness around vulva
- Abnormal vaginal discharge that does not have an odd smell, but typically has a consistency and color like cottage cheese
Can I treat a UTI myself?
For a UTI, the most common advice is to drink a lot of water and unsweetened cranberry juice. While there hasn’t been any concrete scientific study to confirm that this helps, anecdotally a lot of patients have said this has worked for them. For my patients, I always tell them to try to drink as much unsweetened cranberry juice and water as they can when their symptoms first start. If symptoms don’t get better after one or two days, or at any point if there is fever, nausea or vomiting, it’s best to seek help from a physician.
Can I treat a yeast infection myself?
If you have a yeast infection, one of the first things you can try is an over the counter medication like Monistat. If that doesn’t work, then you can talk to a physician for an oral prescription.
When should I see a doctor? Is this something you can diagnose and treat through video?
You can definitely be diagnosed and treated through a video visit. Even for an in person visit, the urine sample and urinalysis is not always used to diagnose a UTI. The protocol nowadays is to base it off symptoms that you are having. The exception is if you are pregnant; if anything appears on a test, you are treated even if you are not having symptoms, because it could prevent any other issues from occurring, such as pre-term delivery. For a UTI, I can show patients over video how to do a self-exam and how to locate the kidneys to evaluate a kidney infection because it is very important for people to know. For a yeast infection, a physician needs to be aware of your sexual history as well, since sometimes the symptoms of a yeast infection and UTIs could also be similar to some sexually transmitted diseases.
What is some of the common advice floating around about UTI’s and yeast infections? What’s true and what’s a myth?
One of the common pieces of advice for avoiding UTIs is actually true — if you urinate after sexual intercourse, it can help prevent an infection. This is because urinating helps flush your system. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water and avoid excessive amounts of caffeine to avoid UTIs.
Some people say that vaginal douching, which is cleaning out the vagina with water, helps prevent yeast infections. This is untrue and it can actually cause yeast infections because it changes the pH in the vagina. Likewise, some other home treatments like using garlic cloves in the vagina or tampons soaked in yogurt, do not help treat a yeast infection.
However, eating yogurt or taking probiotics can prevent yeast infections when you are taking antibiotics or if you are prone to getting yeast infections. Interestingly, I heard a myth that having the warmth from your laptop computer in your lap can cause a yeast infection — this is definitely not true!
About the author
Dr. Amy Cottrell is board-certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and is an active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Memphis with a degree in Biology. She then received her medical degree from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and finished her residency in Family Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.