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Illustration of viral STD to highlight STD vs. UTI

UTI vs. STD: Differences in symptoms

Medically reviewed on October 19, 2022 by Amy Harris, MS, RN, CNM. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

All sexually-active people have probably wondered at one point whether or not they have a sexually-transmitted disease (STD). Some of the most common symptoms of STDs are also symptoms of urinary tract infections (UTI). So how do you know if it is a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?

Based on the above symptoms alone, it could be either one. UTIs and STDs share several common symptoms. However, there are a handful of other symptoms, as well as some distinct differences, that can help you tell these two conditions apart.

In this helpful guide, we will help you learn more about the symptoms of UTIs vs STDs to answer your most “burning” questions. We’ll also dive into the causes, testing options, treatments and how to prevent getting UTIs and STDs if you are sexually active.

What is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when any part of your urinary system becomes infected. The urinary tract includes your bladder (holding sac for urine), urethra (the tube leading from the bladder out of your body), and your kidneys (organs that make urine). Infections happen when bacteria from your skin, rectum, or another source enter your urethra and reach your urinary tract.

While the term UTI refers to all infections of the urinary tract, there are actually several parts of the urinary system that can become infected. These are:

  • The urethra (urethritis)
  • The bladder (cystitis)
  • The kidneys (pyelonephritis)

All of these infections generally require treatment, but a kidney infection can quickly become more serious and potentially require rapid treatment.

What is an STD?

A sexually transmitted disease (STD)—also called a sexually transmitted infection (STI)—is any infection or disease contracted through sexual contact. Bacteria, viruses, or parasites entering the body during oral, vaginal, or anal sex can all cause STDs. STDs can also pass through non-sexual skin-to-skin contact or from mother to baby during childbirth.

There are over 20 types of STDs that can range from slightly painful to life-threatening. Some of the most common STDs include:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Syphilis
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Hepatitis C

Out of these, which is the most common STD? According to the CDC, HPV is the most common STD in the United States, affecting about 42.5 million people in 2020. How long can an STD stay dormant, or not show symptoms? The length of time you can have an STI before noticing symptoms depends on the type of STD. For example, people with gonorrhea and chlamydia can have it for months before the infection causes symptoms. This is why regular testing for STIs if you have multiple partners or change partners, can help reduce your risk for STIs. The majority of people with STDs do not know that they are infected.

UTI vs STD: Comparing the two

It's common to mistake UTI and STD considering they can have similar symptoms, such as:

  • Pain or burning when peeing (Dysuria)
  • Frequent urination
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Change in color of your urine (can sometimes be pink and blood-tinged)
  • Lower belly pain like menstrual cramps
  • Unusual discharge

Because UTIs and STDs can have similar symptoms and usually require treatment, knowing which type of infection you have is an important first step. With that in mind, let’s look at UTIs vs. STDs, including the symptoms, causes, treatment options, and prevention strategies.


UTIs vary in severity but usually include some or all of these falling signs and symptoms:

  • A burning or stinging sensation during urination
  • A strong, persistent urge to pee
  • An increase in the number of times you pee
  • Cloudy, dark, bloody, or smelly urine
  • Lower belly pain like menstrual cramps
  • Incontinence (urine leakage)

Additionally, depending on where your UTI is, there are area-specific symptoms:

  • The urethra – Abnormal discharge could indicate that the urethra is infected.
  • The bladder – Telltale signs of a bladder infection include pelvic pressure and discomfort in the lower stomach area.
  • The kidneys – If you have a fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, or back and side pain, you may have a kidney infection. If you have these symptoms it is important that you are evaluated by an in-person healthcare provider as soon as possible. You may have a kidney infection (pyelonephritis). Rarely, the infection can spread from your kidneys to other parts of your body and become life-threatening.

Women are more likely to get UTIs than men. In people with penises, UTIs generally have fewer symptoms. Men with urinary-related symptoms are more likely to have an STD than a UTI. Regardless of your gender, STD symptoms vary depending on the type of STD, what type of sex you are having (anal, oral, or vaginal), and whether your partners are male, female, or both. Some of the most common symptoms of STDs include: [1]

  • Abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis
  • Red or itchy genitals
  • Sores, warts, or blisters on the mouth or genital areas
  • Abnormal odor
  • Fever
  • Belly or pelvic pain
  • Anal itching, bleeding, or discharge or pain with bowel movements
  • Pain with sex
  • Bleeding after sex (in people with a vagina or anus if having anal sex)

As you’ll notice, UTIs and STDs share many of the same signs. If you have any of these symptoms, you could have an STI or UTI, but they might also not mean anything serious. Talk to your health care provider and get checked out to be safe. You may need to take an STD test to confirm your diagnosis.

Causes of UTIs

So, UTIs occur when bacteria (usually E. coli) infect the urinary tract. But how do the bacteria make it there?

There are a few potential causes of UTIs, namely:

  • Good hygiene – Take care when wiping bacteria, so don’t move from the rectum to the urethra. Wiping from front to back can help reduce the risk of UTIs. Clean the anus and the outer lips of your genitals each day.
  • Feminine products – Douches, scented powders, and deodorant sprays can all increase your chances of infection.
  • Pregnancy – Because pregnancy hormones change the bacteria in your urinary tract, you may be more likely to get a UTI during pregnancy.
  • Sex – Although UTIs are not sexually transmitted infections (they aren’t contagious), they can be caused by sex. Thrusting movements during sexual intercourse can cause bacteria to move further into the urinary system. Urinating and showering before and after sex can reduce your chances of contracting a UTI.

With STDs, the most probable cause is the exchange of bacteria, viruses, or parasites during unprotected sex. However, STDs can spread even when you use protection, as some infections can occur during skin-to-skin contact.

Additionally, some STDs—such as hepatitis C and HIV—can also be passed through the blood (either via shared needles, sexual intercourse, or through contact with open wounds).

How Common are UTIs and STDs?

Both UTIs and STDs are quite common. More than half of all adult women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime. Women are thirty times more likely to have a UTI than men because their urethra is shorter and the opening to the urethra is much closer to the anus than in men. As many as 4 in 10 women who get a UTI will get at least one more within six months. [2]

As for STDs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that in 2018 one in five Americans had an STD and that there were more than 26 million new infections just in that one year. Worldwide, more than one million new STIs are acquired every day. [4]

In short, if you’re sexually active, your symptoms could indicate a UTI or an STD.

Diagnosis and testing: UTIs vs. STDs

Diagnosing a UTI can be straightforward but requires a visit to your healthcare provider. Some of the tests use to diagnose UTIs include: [5]

  • Urinalysis – A lab tech will analyze your urine sample to look for bacteria, white blood cells, and red blood cells.
  • Urine culture test – After sending your urine sample to the lab, your healthcare provider can also ask the lab tech to leave your urine in a petri dish for a few days. Any bacteria present will multiply and give your healthcare provider a clearer picture of the exact bacteria causing your infection and which antibiotic will best treat your UTI.
  • Urinary tract imaging – If you’ve had several UTIs or other health conditions, your healthcare provider may refer you to a urologist to take a closer look at your urinary tract. This process could involve an ultrasound, MRI, CT scan, or a cystoscope (a small camera inserted into your urethra).

Diagnosing STDs can be more challenging, as many will show few or no symptoms. Testing is the only way to confirm whether or not an STD is present. STD testing typically involves taking a sample from the affected area (vulva, vagina, cervix, anus, penis, mouth, throat, anus) with a swab, though other methods include a Pap test (for HPV), blood test, or urine test.

While you can visit a clinic or healthcare provider for an STI test, you can also take an at-home test for many of the most common STDs, including:

  • [Syphilis test](https://www.everlywell.com/products/syphilis-test/)
  • [Chlamydia and gonorrhea test](https://www.everlywell.com/products/chlamydia-gonorrhea-test/)
  • [HIV test](https://www.everlywell.com/products/hiv-test/)
  • [Hepatitis C test](https://www.everlywell.com/products/hepatitis-c-test/)
  • [Trichomoniasis test](https://www.everlywell.com/products/trichomoniasis-test/)

Alternatively, Everlywell offers an STD test for both men and women.


Treating a UTI generally involves antibiotics. Antibiotics kill the bacteria causing your UTI. After a few days, your symptoms should clear up.

Different types of STDs have different treatments. Broadly speaking, STD treatments fall under one of two categories:

  • Antibiotics – STIs like syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis are usually treated with antibiotics.
  • Antiviral drugs – STDs such as herpes and HIV are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not kill viruses- only antivirals do.

Note that you should only take medications that a healthcare provider prescribes to you. Make sure to finish taking all of the medications as prescribed, even if you feel better after a day or two. It is important to treat all of your sexual partners for any STIs you may have as well, or else you will keep reinfecting each other. Talk with your provider about options for expedited partner therapy (you can give them their medications without them needing to be seen) or other affordable or convenient partner treatment options. [6]

Preventing UTIs

It can be hard to avoid ever getting a UTI, but there are some ways you can make it a little less likely, such as:

  • Wiping from front to back after a bowel movement
  • Drinking plenty of fluids (eight to ten glasses of water a day)
  • Washing your vulva, anus, and genital areas with mild, unscented soap and water every one-two days.
  • Urinating after sexual activity
  • Urinating when you need to (instead of holding it in). Try to pee at least every three to four hours.
  • Wear underpants with a cotton crotch. Avoid tight-fitting pants, which trap moisture, and change out of wet bathing suits and workout clothes quickly (for people with vaginas)
  • Take showers or limit baths to 30 minutes or less.
  • Avoiding birth control options that can promote bacterial growth (such as diaphragms and spermicides), especially if you are prone to UTIs.

Preventing STDs

For STDs abstinence is the only way to eliminate all risk. However, if you’re sexually active, you can take steps to keep yourself and your partner(s) safe. To reduce your risk of STDs, you can:

  • Use condoms and other barrier methods to minimize skin-to-skin contact
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis B and HPV
  • Get STD screenings with [sexual health tests](https://www.everlywell.com/products/?category=8) regularly, every time you are with a new partner, or if you have any symptoms
  • Talk about safe sex and STD screening with all of your sexual partners
  • Reduce your number of sexual partners
  • Get to know someone before having sex with them. Talk honestly about STDs and get tested—before you have sex.

Wondering if it’s an STD or a UTI? Take an Everlywell at-home test

Ultimately, it can be challenging to tell UTIs and STDs apart. Many of the symptoms are similar, and the last thing you want to do is guess what’s going on. Seeing a healthcare provider, especially if you have some of the warning signs of a more severe infection, for screening and physical exam is the safest bet for staying healthy and for your peace of mind.

But it can be hard (and expensive) to get an appointment with in-person providers these days. Sometimes, especially if you aren’t really sure about your symptoms, you just want an answer ASAP. While Everlywell’s sexual health tests for men and women can’t answer all of your questions about STDs vs. UTIs, they can start to give you some answers. While you can’t perform a urinalysis in your living room, you can test for STDs in your own home with Everlywell.

If you want to check for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, or 3 other common STIs, our discreet and convenient at-home tests can give you results—fast. Within a few days of mailing your test back to our lab, you’ll receive your results.

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  1. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. MedlinePlus. Updated October 25, 2021. URL. Accessed September 28, 2022.
  2. Urinary tract infections. Office on Women’s Health. Updated February 21, 2022. URL. Accessed September 28, 2022.
  3. Sexually Transmitted Infections Prevalence, Incidence, and Cost Estimates in the United States. CDC. Published January 25, 2021. URL. Accessed October 12, 2022.
  4. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). World Health Organization (WHO). Published August 22, 2022. URL. Accessed September 28, 2022.
  5. Urinary tract infection (UTI). Mayo Clinic. Published September 14, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2022. URL. Accessed October 12, 2022.
  6. Expedited Partner Therapy. CDC. Updated April 19, 2021. Accessed October 12, 2022. URL. Accessed October 12, 2022.
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