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UTI or Bladder Infection? What's the Difference?

UTI or Bladder Infection? What's the Difference?

The terms UTI and bladder infection are often used interchangeably but that doesn’t mean they are the same thing. For the most part, a UTI (urinary tract infection) can be used to describe any infection that affects any parts of the urinary tract (kidneys, ureters, bladder or the urethra). So, if you have a bladder infection, you have a UTI.

However, having a UTI does not mean you have a bladder infection – it means you could have an infection in any one or more of the following parts of the urinary tract.

Urinary Tract 101

Let’s quickly review the urinary tract before we proceed:


We are all born with two kidneys, located in the lower-back, below the rib cage along each side of the spine. These serve as filtering powerhouses, removing waste and excess water from the blood stream so we can eliminate it as urine. The kidneys also regulate blood pressure and electrolyte balance, which is why high-blood pressure and/or diabetes take their toll on the kidneys.

Read, Keeping Your Kidneys Healthy, for more information about these vital organs.


You also have two ureters, typically about 10-inches long (in adults) and they carry the filtered liquid from the kidneys to the bladder.


The bladder is probably the most familiar member of the urinary tract, as it’s the one you “feel” multiple times a day when it signals the need to urinate. The bladder is a small sack that looks like a deflated balloon when empty. It begins to expand as it’s filled with liquid traveling from the kidneys, through the ureters. When it reaches a certain “fill point,” you get the urge to urinate and voluntary muscles are relaxed to allow the flow of urine to move from the bladder, through the urethra.

For some, particularly women from the middle-age years forward, and men with an enlarged prostate, the urge to urinate becomes more frequent and this can indicate an issue. Visit our post on, 5 Signs You Have an Overactive Bladder, if you feel you are urinating more frequently than normal.


The urethra is a single tube that leads from the bladder to the outside of your body. It’s controlled by a muscle called the urinary sphincter, which allows the flow – or prevents the flow – of urine.

Do I Have a Bladder Infection?

An infection in the urethra, bladder, ureters and/or kidneys can all be described via the umbrella term “UTI,” but the most common type of UTI is a bladder infection – also called cystitis.

Bladder infections occur when populations of harmful bacteria rise higher than your body and its immune system can handle. While most bladder infections will clear on their own by drinking plenty of fluids (to flush those bacteria out) and getting rest so your immune system can do its job, others become worse or involve more potent strains of bacteria. These are treated with antibiotics.

The most common symptoms of a bladder infection include:

  • Painful burning or discomfort while urinating
  • Needing to urinate more often
  • Cloudy or foul smelling urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Tenderness or discomfort in the lower abdomen
  • A low-grade fever or lethargy accompanying any of the above

Read, It May Be a Bladder Infection, to learn more.

Schedule an Appointment if You Have Symptoms of a Bladder Infection or UTI

If bladder infections don’t clear on their own, or with the help of antibiotics, they can spread higher into the urinary tract and morph into a kidney infection, which is more serious and can be dangerous.

This is why we always recommend scheduling an appointment with a medical professional whenever you have symptoms of a bladder infection or UTI to monitor its status and prevent it from spreading to the kidneys.

Not sure if your symptoms indicate a bladder infection or some other type of UTI? Contact your general physician’s office to schedule an appointment, or contact us here at Palouse Specialty Physicians.


Published on December 5, 2018