One in five women will have at least one urinary tract infection (UTI) in her lifetime, according to the National Kidney Foundation. And, if you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection, you are all too familiar with the burning urination and constant feeling of needing to go to the bathroom. But, did you know that some of the symptoms of a UTI are similar or the same as symptoms women experience when they have interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome? How is a woman to know if it’s a UTI or painful bladder syndrome?
WHAT IS A URINARY TRACT INFECTION (UTI)?
A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract, most commonly affecting the bladder and the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). When bacteria gets into the urethra and travels to the bladder, a UTI is often the result. With a UTI, the bladder lining also becomes red, swollen and inflamed.
Common symptoms of a UTI include:
- Urinary urgency or the feeling that you need to urinate often. You may have to run to the bathroom several times per hour only to find you urinate only a few drops.
- A burning sensation when urinating.
- Abdominal pain, pelvic pressure and/or lower back pain. You may experience lower abdominal discomfort, bloating and/or feel pressure in the lower pelvic area, especially when urinating.
- Blood in the urine. Urine can appear to have a reddish or dark orange tiny, which signifies blood in the urine from the infection.
- Cloudy urine that has an odor
- Fever and/or chills
WHAT IS INTERSTITIAL CYSTITIS?
Interstitial cystitis (IC), also known as painful bladder syndrome, is another type of pelvic health condition that affects approximately eight million young and middle-aged women in the U.S. IC is a chronic inflammatory condition of the bladder lining that causes pain and pressure in the pelvic area around the bladder.
Symptoms of IC can be similar to the symptoms of a UTI:
- Pain in the bladder and in pelvic region surrounding the bladder.
- Painful urination without the presence of bacteria or infection.
- Urgent and frequent need to urinate, even if the bladder is not full.
WHAT IS THE BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A UTI AND INTERSTITIAL CYSTITIS?
According to Lisa Hawes, M.D., female urology specialist at Chesapeake Urology, “In women who have interstitial cystitis, urine culture results will be negative, meaning that no bacteria are found in the urine as with a urinary tract infection.” With IC, women may also experience pain during sexual intercourse, another symptom not commonly associated with a UTI.
DIAGNOSING AND TREATING A UTI VS. INTERSTITIAL CYSTITIS
Typically, treatment for a UTI is a course of antibiotics, the use of over-the-counter medications to help relieve burning and/or bladder pain, and increasing the intake of water.
Some women, however, experience frequent UTIs that require more investigation. If recurrent UTIs are a problem, your doctor will perform a thorough pelvic exam to ensure nothing in the vagina or bladder is causing infection, and may also order diagnostic tests such as an ultrasound, CT scan, cystoscopy or a urine culture.
- Learn about other treatments for chronic UTIs here.
Diagnosing IC is often more difficult. What women often find frustrating about this condition is that no exact cause has been pinpointed; however many IC patients may also have other health conditions such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, endometriosis, and pelvic floor dysfunction. Your doctor will begin testing for other conditions that cause the same symptoms and come to a diagnosis of IC once other causes are ruled out.
TREATING INTERSTITIAL CYSTITIS
While there is no cure for IC, treatments can provide relief from painful symptoms. Your doctor may provide several different therapies that have been shown to alleviate and/or diminish many of the symptoms of IC including:
- Physical therapy provided by a specialized pelvic health physical therapist with training in IC has been shown to be successful at improving symptoms in many women.
- Dietary changes such as avoiding bladder irritants or foods that may cause the bladder to flare or trigger symptoms, as well as adequate hydration.
- Bladder instillations.
- Medications to relieve symptoms of IC.
- Bladder Distention.
Learn more about treatment options for interstitial cystitis here.