Could That UTI be an STI in disguise?

2 min read

dog in disguise

You feel that telltale pain when you pee — ugh, a urinary tract infection! But before you call your doctor to ask for a prescription or start your go-to UTI treatments, consider whether your discomfort could be caused by a different infection: the sexually transmitted kind.

Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, often have no signs, but when they do cause symptoms they can look and feel a lot like UTIs. “Pain with urination, urinary urgency, vaginal irritation, cloudy urine, abdominal pain, and unusual vaginal or penile discharge can be symptoms of both UTIs and certain STIs,” says Emily Rymland, DNP, Clinical Development Manager at Nurx, a telehealth company which prescribes and delivers birth control and home STI tests.

Don’t think an STI could happen to you? You might want to rethink that. The US is in the throes of an STI epidemic, and three common infections — chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis — are at an all-time high. Chlamydia often has no noticeable symptoms, but can cause painful urination, pain during sex, and lower belly pain (which will all sound familiar to UTI sufferers). Gonorrhea is more likely to have symptoms, which include burning with urination, discharge that may be yellow or bloody, painful sex and abdominal or pelvic pain. Another STI that mimics UTIs is trichomoniasis, a parasitic infection that can cause pain during urination or sex, itching or redness around the genitals, and vaginal discharge that may be smelly and green, yellow, gray or white.

And even if you know for certain that you have a UTI, you could have an STI as well. “An STI can make you more vulnerable to a UTI, because of the bacterial infection and irritation in your genital area,” says Rymland. Another reason you could mistake an STI for a UTI, or vice versa? Both types of infection are more likely when you have a new sexual partner.

These particular STIs are 100% curable if you catch them in time, but can have serious consequences if left untreated. Women who don’t know they have an STI could develop pelvic inflammatory disease, which causes internal scarring of the reproductive organs and could lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy, or chronic pelvic pain. If a woman with syphilis or gonorrhea gets pregnant, she can pass the infection to her baby, with tragic results: Last year, nearly 100 infants in the US died because of congenital syphilis.

Condoms offer the best protection against STIs (just avoid condoms with spermicide, which can leave you more vulnerable to UTIs). Because condoms don’t offer complete protection, everyone should get tested regularly — at least once a year, and more often if you have a new sex partner and are unsure of his or her status. You can get STI tests at the doctor or clinic, or test yourself with an STI home test kit. If you do test positive your provider will prescribe treatment (in most cases a course of antibiotics) for both you and your partner.

The bottom line: Pay attention to painful urination and any symptoms that are outside of the norm, and if you have sex you should get tested for STIs regularly (symptoms or not). The only thing to fear about STIs is not knowing your status.

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