Two-thirds of women experience urinary tract discomfort. If you’re one of them, you might be wondering if a urinary tract infection or an overactive bladder is the cause.
Both urinary tract infection UTI and overactive bladder are characterized by a strong, frequent urge to urinate. That can make it difficult to know if your symptoms are the result of an overactive bladder or UTI. In fact, research finds that many women with overactive bladder are often misdiagnosed with UTI, resulting in improper treatment and overuse of unnecessary antibiotics.
Despite their overlapping symptoms, UTI and overactive bladder are completely different conditions. Overactive bladder, as its name hints, happens when the bladder muscles contract excessively. A UTI, by comparison, is most often a bacterial infection of the bladder, although it can occasionally infect the kidneys.
How can you tell the difference between overactive bladder and UTI? Here are the symptoms, causes and treatments to know about.
UTI Vs. Overactive Bladder Signs and Symptoms
Roughly half of all women will develop a UTI at some point in their lives. Yet only 16 percent of women suffer from overactive bladder. If you suspect you have an overactive bladder or UTI it can be helpful to know the most common symptoms of each.
With a bladder infection you may experience any, or all, of the following:
- A frequent, urgent need to urinate
- Pain or burning while voiding
- Passing scant amounts of urine, despite a strong impulse to empty your bladder
- Bloody or cloudy urine
- Abdominal pressure or cramps
If the kidneys are infected you may experience:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain in the lower back or the side of the back
- A frequent, urgent need to urinate
- Urinating eight or more times in 24 hours
- Leaking urine after a strong urge to urinate
- Waking up during the night to use the bathroom
Three Key Differences Between Overactive Bladder or UTI Symptoms
- Timing: UTI usually starts suddenly, while overactive bladder is a chronic, ongoing condition.
- Pain: While overactive bladder is uncomfortable, it doesn’t cause painful urination.
- Blood in the urine: Overactive bladder doesn’t cause bloody or cloudy urine that may be present with UTI.
Causes and Risk Factors of Overactive Bladder or UTI
Even though UTI and overactive bladder affect the same part of the body, their causes and risk factors are very different. While anyone can get a UTI, women’s bodies are especially susceptible because of the length and location of the female urethra the tube that attaches to the bladder to remove urine from the body. Since a woman’s urethra is short, bacteria doesn’t have to travel very far to cause infection. In addition, the female urethra is located close to the rectum, making it easy for bacteria from the skin and rectum to easily enter the urinary tract.
Overactive bladder is caused by a completely different mechanism than UTI. Normally, when the bladder fills with urine, nerve impulses send signals to the brain that the bladder is full. As your brain receives these signals, the bladder wall muscles begin to contract to force out urine. With overactive bladder the bladder wall becomes hyperactive, contracting too frequently and forcefully. This can even happen when the bladder isn’t full.
- Previous UTIs
- Sexual activity
- A new sexual partner
- Use of spermicide-containing contraceptives
- Increasing age
- Kidney stones
- Ignoring the urge to void
- Improper hygiene
Overactive Bladder Causes and Risk Factors
- Changes in hormones during menopause
- Multiple sclerosis
- Bladder tumors or stones
- Certain medications
- Consuming large amounts of caffeine or alcohol
- Age-related changes in cognitive function
Diagnosis and Treatment
Just like overactive bladder and UTI have distinct causes, they are also diagnosed and treated differently. UTI is diagnosed by a simple lab test that looks for bacteria in the urine. Diagnosing overactive bladder involves multiple steps. In addition to performing a physical exam, your doctor may order several tests including x-rays, ultrasound and tests that assess urine leakage from the bladder.
Are you likely to experience overactive bladder after UTI or can an overactive bladder cause UTI? One study reports that 11 percent of women are prone to both, however it’s unclear if an overactive bladder can cause UTI or visa-versa.
Treatment for UTI is short and targeted. If lab tests indicate that you have a urinary tract infection, your doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics and may recommend certain over-the-counter pain relievers.
Because overactive bladder is a chronic condition, treatment consists of a multi-pronged approach including:
- Diet and exercise
- Weight loss, if indicated
- Reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol
- Stopping smoking, if you’re a smoker
- Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles
- Avoiding bubble baths and harsh soaps
- Managing chronic illnesses that may be linked to symptoms, such as diabetes.
- Scheduling bathroom times to retrain the bladder
- Medication to reduce bladder contractions
Whether it’s an overactive bladder or UTI, urinary tract discomfort can impact the quality of your life. It can be helpful to know that both of these conditions are treatable. If you are experiencing urinary pain, burning or frequency call us at 678-201-1283 or schedule an appointment online at www.advancedgynecology.com.