Bladder Infection vs. UTI: What Are the Differences?

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There is a connection between bladder infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs), and the terms are sometimes used synonymously. A bladder infection is a type of UTI, but not all UTIs involve the bladder. You can also develop a UTI in the urethra, ureters, or kidneys.

Learn more about the differences between bladder infections and UTIs.

A plastic urine collector and sterile bottle

Karl Tapales / Getty Images

Symptoms

Distinguishing a bladder infection from another UTI based on symptoms alone can pose challenges. Bladder infections, like other types of UTIs, usually involve a frequent urge to urinate and pain or burning sensations when you do. Additional symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and fever, may indicate a UTI that has reached the kidneys.

Bladder Infection
  • Pain or burning when you urinate

  • Frequent urge to urinate, even when you only have a few drops

  • Strong-smelling urine

  • Cloudy or bloody urine

  • Pressure, cramping, or pain in the groin or lower abdomen

UTI
  • Pain or burning when you urinate

  • Frequent urge to urinate

  • Strong-smelling urine

  • Cloudy or bloody urine

  • Pressure, cramping, or pain in the groin, lower abdomen, or lower back

  • Feeling shaky or tired

  • Fever, chills

  • Nausea, vomiting

If you have symptoms, seek medical help immediately so you can start the right treatment.

Causes

Because bladder infections are UTIs, they share the same causes and risk factors. The infection starts when bacteria enter the urethra, the tube by which urine leaves your body. Upon arriving there, bacteria begin to multiply. Eventually, the infection can spread to other parts of the urinary tract, including the bladder.

Bladder Infection

A bladder infection is the most common type of UTI. It happens when bacteria from the bowels enter the urethra and travel up to the bladder. A bladder infection is also known as cystitis.

UTI

You get a UTI when bacteria from the skin or rectum enter the urethra. The most common bacterial culprits are:

  • Escherichia coli
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • Proteus mirabilis
  • Enterococcus faecalis
  • Staphylococcus saprophyticus

Females are more susceptible to UTI than males because the urethra is shorter and closer to the rectum. Other risk factors for UTI include:

  • Age: UTIs are more common in older adults and young children
  • Previous UTI
  • Bacterial changes caused by menopause or the use of spermicides
  • Sexual activity
  • Poor hygiene
  • Using a urinary catheter or diaphragm

You may also be at higher risk for UTIs if you're pregnant or have certain health conditions, such as:

Diagnosis

Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have similar symptoms. Getting the correct diagnosis is crucial to getting the right treatment.

To diagnose a UTI, your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and perform a physical exam. You'll probably need to provide a urine sample if they suspect a UTI. The urinalysis can quickly check for bacteria in the urine stream and confirm the diagnosis.

If you have frequent UTIs or very severe symptoms, you may need an ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan to check the urinary tract for abnormalities.

A cystoscopy is a test that involves inserting a long, flexible scope through the urethra and into the bladder. It's a way for your provider to look for signs of infection. It can also help identify potential causes for recurrent UTIs, such as obstructions or lesions.

Treatment

UTIs have the potential to spread to the kidneys, so if you have one, it's important to see a healthcare provider. Aside from more serious kidney infections, healthcare providers treat bladder infections and other UTIs the same way.

Bladder Infection

Because it's a bacterial infection, your provider may prescribe an antibiotic, typically:

Be sure to take antibiotics as prescribed. Typically, antibiotics will be based on the results of a urine culture. You should start to improve within a day. You can also take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers if you need them.

UTI

Most UTIs respond to antibiotics. But overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. When that happens, your provider may have to switch you to different antibiotics or intravenous (IV) treatment.

Treatment for a kidney infection depends on its severity and your overall health. In addition to antibiotics, you may need OTC or prescription-strength pain relievers. You may require hospitalization if you:

  • Have a high fever
  • Are in severe pain
  • Can't keep food or fluids down

In the hospital, you'll have IV fluids and antibiotics. Most people recover within a few days. Without treatment, a kidney infection can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening condition.

Prevention

You can't eliminate the risk, but there are a few things you can do to help prevent UTIs, especially if you have them often. These include:

  • Always urinate after having sex.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to help wash bacteria out of the urinary tract.
  • Take showers instead of baths when possible.
  • Avoid or cut down on coffee, alcohol, and spicy foods.
  • Females should always wipe front to back after using the toilet.
  • Avoid genital sprays, powders, and douches.
  • Uncircumcised males should carefully clean under the foreskin every day.

Summary 

A bladder infection is a type of UTI. UTI is an umbrella term for infections of the urinary tract. This includes the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. Common symptoms include a frequent need to urinate, burning sensations during urination, and strong-smelling urine.

Antibiotics are generally effective in controlling UTIs. You can also ensure you drink plenty of fluids to flush the urinary tract. Kidney infection is more serious and may require hospitalization. Though you can't completely prevent UTIs, you can take steps to reduce the risk. These include urinating after having sex, avoiding harsh genital products, and switching from baths to showers.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Diseases. Definition & facts of bladder infection in adults.

  3. UpToDate. Patient education: urinary tract infections in adolescents and adults (Beyond the Basics).

  4. Flores-Mireles AL, Walker JN, Caparon M, Hultgren SJ. Urinary tract infections: epidemiology, mechanisms of infection and treatment options. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2015;13(5):269-284. doi:10.1038/nrmicro3432

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  7. Sepsis Alliance. Urinary tract infections.

  8. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Urinary tract infections.

  9. Hayashi Y, Kohri K. Circumcision related to urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, human immunodeficiency virus infections, and penile and cervical cancer. Int J Urol. 2013;20(8):769-75. doi:10.1111/iju.12154

By Ann Pietrangelo
Ann Pietrangelo is a freelance writer, health reporter, and author of two books about her personal health experiences.