A burning pain when you pee, a funky smell down there, cloudy or bloody urine – is it an STD or a UTI?
Though they tend to have some similar symptoms, these two are very different.
STDs are a group of infections that are spread through sexual contact – be it oral, vaginal or anal sex. Even simple foreplay with skin-to-skin contact can cause some STDs.
A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract system which includes the kidneys, bladder and urethra. An infection in any of these parts is what causes a UTI.
It’s very easy to confuse the beginning stages of an STD for a UTI not just for the average person but also for doctors. A study found that emergency departments misdiagnosed STIs and UTIs 50% of the time with STDs getting underdiagnosed.
This is because they sometimes have similar symptoms which include smelly urine, a burning sensation and just general discomfort in your genital area.
It’s important to know which is which.
If it’s an STD you need to start treatment immediately without delay lest it causes serious and sometimes irreversible health problems.
If it’s a UTI you need a completely different treatment regimen.
Here’s how to tell the difference.
1. Get Tested!
Of course there are some situations where you can almost be sure it is a UTI.
If it happens to you often (some people are more prone to UTI) you’ll probably know when it is just UTI. If you are in a long-term healthy monogamous relationship where you talk openly about sex then it’s most likely also a UTI. Get a UTI test to be sure.
Note: If it’s a new relationship it’s best to get tested for an STD. Either of you could have gotten an STD from your past sexual relationships.
But in most situations the first thing you should do is get tested.
Even if you’ve not recently had sex there are still other ways to get an STD. You might have had skin contact with an infected person, you might have kissed someone with an STD or shared personal items like razors or clothes which could transmit an infection.
The easiest way to get tested is to visit a local clinic or lab. If you want more anonymity use online STD testing. See our top online STD testing services recommendations.
There are two options when it comes to online STD testing.
One, use an online lab testing service. You place an order online then you are directed to a nearby lab to get a sample taken. It’s completely anonymous.
Two, buy an at-home STD test. There are two types of home STD tests.
With some tests you only collect a sample at home using a kit they’ll send you via mail. Then you send the sample back for lab testing. With others you buy a complete rapid test kit where you take a sample yourself and test it right there at home in 15-30 minutes.
2. Check for Discharge
One of the best ways to tell the difference between an STD and UTI is the presence of an unusual discharge.
In women, a urinary tract infection usually doesn’t cause any discharge. Instead it’s the urine that will contain a cloudy substance or blood. Only men are likely to see a discharge from the tip of the penis.
If you see a vaginal discharge, get tested for an STD immediately either online or at a local clinic.
3. Bloody or cloudy urine
If you notice that your pee is smelly and contains what looks like blood or a cloudy substance it’s most likely a UTI.
Go to a lab where they will take a urine specimen to test for the presence of a urinary tract infection.
If it is negative, get an STD test. If it’s still not an STD it could be a sign of a serious health problem. See your doctor for a full health diagnosis.
4. Frequent urination without relief
This is another classic sign of UTI. If you feel like urinating frequently but you don’t feel any relief even after going to the bathroom it is most likely a urinary tract infection. Get a urine test to confirm.
5. Recent sexual activity
If you had any kind of sexual contact recently and then start seeing UTI-like symptoms get an STD test immediately.
You may have all the classic signs of a UTI and even test positive for a UTI but still have an STD. This is because some STDs like chlamydia can cause a UTI when they spread to the urinary tract.
So even if you test positive for a UTI it’s still a good idea to test for an STD. Even better, get regularly tested for the most common STDs at least once every six months and more frequently if you engage in high-risk sexual activities.