Genital Candidiasis and a Urinary Tract Infection: How Can You Tell the Difference?
Genital Candidiasis (more commonly known as a yeast infection) and urinary tract infections have several of the same symptoms: burning sensation when urinating and cloudy or smelly urine. While caused by very different things, these two infections can be easily confused. Following are explanations of each malady as well as key ways to tell the difference between them.
These infections are caused by an overgrowth of the Candida yeast species (part of the fungus kingdom). Candida yeast is normally present in the vagina in small amounts. They are kept in check by the presence of Lactobacillus bacteria, another population of the vagina's normal flora, which produce a mildly acidic substance called hydrogen peroxide that prevents yeast growth. Candida populations can become overgrown for several reasons:
- The sugar content of vaginal secretions increases
- The vagina is excessively moist
- Bacterial populations in the vagina decrease
In addition to painful urination and cloudy, smelly urine, genital Candidiasis can cause symptoms such as a cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge, an itchy or irritated vagina, as well as redness and swelling of the vagina and vulva.
Urinary Tract Infections
UTIs are the result of bacteria flourishing somewhere in the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, ureters (tubes connecting bladder to kidneys), bladder, or urethra (tube connecting bladder to outside environment). Unlike the vagina, the urinary tract is usually sterile, meaning no organisms are present anywhere within it. When a particularly hardy microorganism is introduced to the urinary tract, it can stick to the sides of these tubes and cavities causing painful inflammation when the immune system responds.
E. Coli bacteria species are most commonly responsible for urinary tract infections. This bacteria can grow in many different environments, but are most often found in humans as part of the lower digestive tract. This can be particularly problematic for women as the anus and urethra are much closer together than those of a man. Improper wiping and anal sex are common methods that transfer E. coli from the anus to the vagina.
Telling the Difference
While yeast infections and UTIs are caused by very different things, they can feel quite similar. Yeast infections, however, almost always have one symptom that UTIs do not have: itching and irritation of the vagina. The urethra and vagina are also very close to each other, and, as such, it can be difficult to differentiate between their symptoms. The nearly fool-proof way to tell the difference between the two infections, therefore, is through laboratory testing. Diagnosing each one of these infections is very important before beginning treatment.
- Dipstick Urinalysis: A chemically treated dipstick is dipped into a urine specimen. When bacteria are present in the urine, chances are there will also be more white blood cells present attempting to fight off the infection. A high white blood cell count in urine is therefore a good sign of a UTI.
- Slide Test: A cotton swab is used to sample a vaginal discharge and then wiped onto a slide. The slide is then examined under a microscope. Yeast colonies have a distinct pattern of growth and are easy to identify.
Before you treat yourself for what you believe is genital Candidiasis, it's a good idea to get your physician's opinion to save yourself time, money, and pain.