May 23, 2023

Is a Bladder Infection the Same as a UTI?

A bladder infection is definitely a UTI ... but not all UTIs are bladder infections

Person talking with physician about bladder and UTI pain; physician is using a picture as a talking point.

Ouch! It hurts to pee! Yet you feel like you have to pee all the time — and, worse still, you can barely squeeze out a trickle when you do.


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Yep, it sounds like you have a bladder infection.

Or is it a UTI?

The difference may seem confusing, but mostly, it’s a question of terminology.

What’s the difference between a bladder infection and UTI?

Bear with us here: A bladder infection is one type of urinary tract infection (UTI).

But there are other kinds of UTIs, too.

That includes infections in your kidneys, ureters (the tubes that carry pee from your kidneys to your bladder) and your urethra (the tube that connects your bladder to the opening where you pee).

While infections in any part of your urinary tract are properly called UTIs, bladder infections (sometimes called cystitis) are the most common kind.

As a result, people — including healthcare providers — tend to use the words interchangeably, according to urologist Emily Slopnick, MD. “Usually, when we say ‘UTI,’ we mean a bladder infection.”

Comparing symptoms

There’s another reason why people use the terms “UTI” and “bladder infection” interchangeably: The symptoms are largely the same.

  • An urgent need to go — except that when you try to go, you can barely squeeze out a drop.
  • A burning pain while you’re peeing.
  • Pain or pressure in your pelvic area, right above your pubic bone.

If these are the only symptoms you have, the odds are that you have a bladder infection.

But if you have some of these additional symptoms, you may have a different, more serious, type of UTI:

  • Chills.
  • Fever.
  • Pain in your lower back or on your side below your ribs.
  • Pink or red-tinged urine (a sign of bleeding in your urinary tract).
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.

Kidney infections tend to be the most painful, and most serious, type of UTI. If you see blood in your urine and have a fever, get to a healthcare provider as soon as you can.

What causes UTIs?

Bacteria, most commonly Escherichia coli (E. coli), cause UTIs, including bladder infections. These bacteria normally live on our skin and in the areas around the vagina and/or rectum. But sometimes, they get the urge to travel, heading up your urethra and into your bladder. They may even make it all the way up to your kidneys.

Bladder infections are very common, especially in women. In fact, the National Institutes of Health say that 50% to 60% of women will get at least one UTI in their lifetime. But some people tend to get them more often than others.

“A lot of the time, we just don’t know why some people are more prone to UTIs than others,” notes Dr. Slopnick. But some factors can add to your chances of getting a UTI:

  • Sex assigned at birth: Women and people assigned female at birth have shorter urethras than men and people assigned male at birth, explains Dr. Slopnick, making it easier for bacteria to reach their bladder and kidneys. Also, a woman’s urethra is closer to their rectum, which is where many of the bacteria that cause bladder infections live.
  • Menopause: Women who’ve gone through menopause have yet another risk factor. In this case, the reason is hormonal. “Vaginas are naturally acidic, which helps keep bacteria in check,” Dr. Slopnick says. “But after menopause, low estrogen levels lead to thinning and drying of the vaginal tissues and a loss of that acidity.” Pregnancy and the normal changes of a menstrual cycle can also affect hormone levels and play a role in UTIs.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes impacts your immune system and can reduce your ability to fight off infection. “Especially if diabetes is not well controlled, and sugar is spilling into your urine, it feeds the bacteria and raises your risk,” Dr. Slopnick notes.
  • Genetics: Genetics play a role in the size and shape of your urinary tract, making some people more prone to infections.
  • Having sex: People who have sex have more UTIs than those who don’t. And sex with a new partner may also raise your risk for UTIs.
  • Spermicides and diaphragms: These forms of birth control can kill off good bacteria and give E. coli bacteria a better chance to flourish.
  • Being unable to empty your bladder completely, like people with a spinal cord injury or nerve damage around their bladder. When urine lingers in your bladder, it can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Having an obstruction, like a kidney stone or an enlarged prostrate, that blocks the normal flow of urine.
  • Not drinking enough water: Drinking water makes you pee, and peeing helps wash away some of the bacteria in your urinary tract. “Drink enough water to keep your bladder flushed,” advises Dr. Slopnick, “and empty your bladder frequently.”

Can your UTI be a bladder infection?

Your bladder infection is definitely a UTI, although your UTI might not be a bladder infection.

Bladder infections are the most common type of UTI, and research shows that if you get one, you’re likely to get another. But other types of UTIs include:

  • Urethritis: This type of UTI occurs if the bacteria infect your urethra.
  • Pyelonephritis: This type of UTI happens if the bacteria make their way to your ureters or kidneys.

How are UTIs diagnosed?

If you think you might have a UTI, it’s important to see a healthcare provider. A primary care doctor is a good place to start, says Dr. Slopnick, especially if this is the first time you’ve had symptoms. “You only need to see a urologist if you are having recurrent infections.”

As your treatment partner, your healthcare provider will talk to you about your symptoms, which can offer clues as to the severity and location of your infection. They’ll also do a physical exam and order urine tests.

Urine tests are the only way to diagnose a UTI for certain. “Just because you have the symptoms of a UTI doesn’t necessarily mean you have one,” Dr. Slopnick cautions. “There are other causes of bladder irritation, and you don’t truly have a UTI unless the urine culture grows bacteria.”

Your healthcare provider can help figure out the difference and help you get the proper treatment.

How are UTIs treated?

Because bacteria cause UTIs, your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics to treat them.


Antibiotics are powerful drugs that fight infection. They’re generally safe. But sometimes, they can have side effects, including allergic reactions and serious, possibly life-threatening, diarrhea caused by the bacteria Clostridium difficile (C. diff). Be sure to let your healthcare provider know if you have concerns.

In general, a simple bladder infection isn’t only common, but it’s also easy to treat with oral antibiotics.

But in some cases, additional risk factors can complicate the picture. Factors like abnormal anatomy, a weakened immune system or advanced age can make treatment more difficult. In these cases, you might need to go to the hospital and get intravenous antibiotics (which are delivered through a vein in your arm) to treat the infection.

Left untreated, a bladder infection can become a kidney infection. Kidney infections are a particularly serious type of UTI, and require prompt medical attention. Otherwise, the infection can cause lasting damage to your kidneys, or even spread into your bloodstream.

With treatment, bladder infections usually start to clear up within a few days. But remember: Even if you feel better, take all of your antibiotics. Otherwise, the infection may come back.

Kidney infections — and other “complicated” UTIs — are harder to treat. If you have a complicated UTI, you may require IV antibiotics over a longer time; this will require a hospital stay.

How can I prevent a UTI?

You’ve heard it all before:

  • Drink plenty of water. Six to eight 8-ounce glasses a day, for most people, or until your urine is pale in color and odor-free. Remember, the more you drink, the more you pee — and the more of those nasty bacteria you’re apt to flush out.
  • Don’t go too long without a bathroom break, and try to empty your bladder completely when you do go. Peeing six or seven times a day, give or take a few, is normal.
  • Try cranberry supplements. Available in capsule or tablet form, cranberry supplements contain a high concentration of the active ingredients found in cranberry juice, but without all the sugar — and often at a lower cost. In addition, there’s no agreed-upon “dose” or amount of juice you should drink. But the supplements have dosing instructions right on the label. “For these reasons, I recommend over-the-counter cranberry supplements, rather than cranberry juice,” says Dr. Slopnick.
  • Remember to pee as soon as possible after sex. Again, this helps flush away any bacteria that may have entered your urethra.
  • Wipe front-to-back after a bowel movement. For women and people with vulvas, wiping front-to-back after a bowel movement helps keep poop and its associated bacteria away from your urethra and reduces the chance of infection.

Advice for minimizing UTIs sometimes also includes avoiding bubble baths, as bubble bath products may contain ingredients that can irritate your bottom. It seems like common sense. But there really isn’t much science to support it.

While you might not always be able to prevent a UTI, getting treatment early is a smart move. It reduces the risk of bacteria spreading to other parts of your urinary tract. And best of all, you can look forward to feeling better soon.

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