Cystitis vs. UTIs: What Are the Differences?

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Cystitis and urinary tract infections (UTIs) can be the same thing, but they aren’t always. Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder that can be caused by infectious or noninfectious reasons. UTIs are infections of the urinary tract, including everything from the urethra to the bladder to the kidneys.

Keep reading to learn the similarities and differences in the causes, symptoms, and treatments of UTIs and cystitis.

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Symptoms

Many of the symptoms of cystitis may occur with other types of UTIs. Symptoms common for both cystitis and UTIs include:

  • Pain or pressure in the lower abdomen or pelvic area
  • Pain, burning, or a stinging sensation while peeing
  • Peeing more often, with an increased urgency
  • Feeling like you need to pee soon after going
  • Dark, cloudy, foul-smelling urine
  • Increased need to pee at night
  • Feeling unwell or tired
  • Blood in urine

In addition to the above symptoms, with a UTI, you may also experience:

  • Fever and chills
  • Incontinence (loss of bladder control)
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in the lower back or sides

Mild cases of cystitis are infections that may clear up on their own, and you may not even notice any symptoms from them. However, when cystitis is caused by a more serious infection, symptoms like fever, chills, and changes in urine are more likely. 

Causes

Cystitis

The most common cause of cystitis is a bacterial infection. Some conditions can increase the chances of this occurring, including:

Still, it can have other causes that are not related to an infection such as:

  • Chemicals or fragrances in hygiene products
  • Reaction to a medication
  • Reaction to radiation or chemotherapy cancer treatments

Cystitis can be an acute condition that develops suddenly or a long-term condition called interstitial cystitis. Both types can be managed, and they may even go away on their own. Risk factors for developing cystitis include being an older adult and being female, as a woman's urethra (the tube carrying urine out of the body from the bladder) is shorter and closer to the rectum than a man's.

UTIs

UTIs are caused by an overgrowth of a microorganism. Usually, they are caused by bacteria, but they could also be caused by fungi or parasites. Bacteria that live on the skin, in stool, or in body fluids can enter the urinary tract through the urethra. UTIs are more common in women and more likely to occur in older adults.

Bacteria that may cause UTIs include:

  • E. coli (the most common)
  • Staphylococcus
  • Enterococcus
  • Pseudomonas
  • Chlamydia
  • Trachomatis
  • Mycoplasma

Factors that may increase your risk for developing a UTI include being female, being older, having diabetes, and experiencing hormonal changes (pregnancy, menopause, and through birth control).

Diagnosis

To diagnose cystitis or a UTI, a healthcare provider will likely start by gathering a history of your symptoms and conducting a physical exam. Doctors will likely order a urinalysis, meaning they test a sample of your urine for any abnormalities.

Urinalysis tests and urine cultures check for white blood cells, red blood cells, bacteria, and other particles that could help diagnose the condition.

Sometimes a procedure called a cystoscopy, in which a thin tube with a camera attached is inserted through the urethra into the urinary tract to look for abnormalities, will be performed. Ultrasounds, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and CT (computed tomography) scans may also be done to find problems that could be causing your symptoms.

Treatment

Cystitis

Many mild cases of cystitis can be managed at home until they resolve on their own. Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, limiting caffeine intake, abstaining from sex, limiting alcohol, and applying a heating pad may help resolve symptoms more quickly.

Sometimes over-the-counter (OTC) medications like Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen) may help to reduce pain and discomfort associated with cystitis. Ask your doctor for the best option for you.

If your symptoms don’t resolve, contact your healthcare provider. People with cystitis caused by a bacterial infection will likely require a course of antibiotics to treat the infection.

Medications commonly used to treat cystitis include:

  • Fosfomycin
  • Nitrofurantoin
  • Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole

UTIs

UTIs are usually caused by bacterial infections, and antibiotics are used to treat them. Home remedies mentioned above to manage the symptoms of cystitis may also be helpful to ease the symptoms of other types of UTIs, including staying hydrated, limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, using heating pads, and taking OTC pain relievers.

Common medications prescribed to treat UTIs are:

  • Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (a combination medication)
  • β-lactams
  • Fluoroquinolones
  • Nitrofurantoin
  • Fosfomycin tromethamine

Severe infections may require hospitalization and treatment with intravenous (IV) antibiotics. If you notice a fever, vomiting, or pain in your back or sides, seek medical attention because this could be a sign of a more serious infection.

Prevention

Cystitis

There are no strategies to fully prevent cystitis. Still, some lifestyle changes may be able to lower your risk, including:

  • Practicing good hygiene
  • Avoiding irritating personal care products
  • Taking showers instead of baths
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Wiping from front to back after a bowel movement
  • Staying hydrated

Taking care of your overall health by managing other health conditions (such as diabetes) and keeping your stress levels in check may help reduce inflammation.

UTIs

The methods mentioned above may also lower your risk of developing other types of UTIs. Urinating after sexual intercourse can also help reduce your risk by preventing bacteria colonizing in your urinary tract from causing an infection.

UTIs can also be caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), so it's important to practice safe sex and get screened for STIs to reduce your risk.

In addition, some research suggests drinking unsweetened cranberry juice may help lower the risk of developing urinary tract infections.

If you experience recurrent UTIs, your healthcare provider may suggest long-term antibiotics, probiotics, and other options to reduce the recurrence of infections.

A Word From Verywell

There are many similarities between the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of cystitis and UTIs. Your healthcare provider can help you distinguish the cause of your symptoms and develop a treatment plan to help.

If you experience a fever, blood in your urine, or pain in your back or sides, contact your healthcare provider because these could be signs of a serious infection. However, mild cases may heal on their own, and both of these conditions are treatable. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know if you have cystitis or a UTI?

If you have cystitis or another UTI, you may experience pain while peeing, pelvic pain, or discomfort, an increased need to pee, discolored urine, and fever. You won’t know for sure if you have cystitis or a UTI without visiting a healthcare provider to confirm the cause of your symptoms.

Is treatment for cystitis different from a UTI?

Sometimes. The most common cause of cystitis is an infection, so in those cases the treatment is the same as with any UTI. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. If the cystitis is not caused by an infection, your healthcare provider may recommend medications to help reduce the symptoms, like pain relievers, as well as lifestyle changes. Mild cases of cystitis may heal on their own.

What causes bladder inflammation?

Bladder inflammation may be caused by infection, medications, chemotherapy or radiation, diabetes, sexually transmitted infections, fragranced products, and chemicals.

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5 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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