Bladder infection vs. UTI: Is there a difference?

By Katy Brodski-Quigley, MD, EdM Oct 11, 2022 • 3 min

A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is a bacterial infection of any part of the urinary tract. While people often use the terms "bladder infection" and "UTI" interchangeably, they are not exactly the same. Bladder infections are UTIs that are concentrated in the bladder, and they are the most common type of UTI. However, a UTI can develop in other parts of the urinary tract, such as the urethra or kidneys.  Another phrase you may hear is a "lower urinary tract infection," meaning that the infection is in the bladder region or below it.

Infections in the lower urinary tract can be annoying and painful. Fortunately, when treated right away, most people won't have complications. Getting prompt treatment can help prevent the infection from traveling to your kidneys. A UTI that spreads to your kidneys can cause serious health problems

UTI types based on location

UTIs happen when bacteria enter a person's urinary tract. Usually, these bacteria come from the surrounding skin, vagina or anus, and enter through the urethra. Depending on where most of the bacteria are present, the UTI can become:

  • Urethritis—infection of the urethra
  • Prostatitis—infection of the prostate
  • Cystitis—infection of the bladder
  • Pyelonephritis—infection of the kidney 

Who gets UTIs?

People of any age and sex can develop UTIs, but they’re most common in women. Individuals with a higher risk of developing a UTI include those with an abnormality, blockage or trauma of the urinary tract, a suppressed immune system or a recent urinary tract procedure. 

How is a UTI diagnosed?

All UTIs, no matter where they are located, are usually diagnosed by symptoms, a medical exam and urine tests.

How can you treat a UTI?

In most cases, healthcare providers prescribe an antibiotic to treat a UTI. The type, dose and length of your antibiotic treatment depend on many factors, including the severity of the infection, your medical history and the type of bacteria found in your urine. Many people start to feel better within a few days of starting on an antibiotic. However, even if your symptoms improve, you should finish the entire course of the antibiotics as prescribed. This can help keep the infection from coming back. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe other medicines, including over-the-counter urinary tract infection products, to relieve pain or discomfort from a UTI, if needed.

Published October 2022.

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