Written on March 19, 2023 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.
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Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and urinary tract infections (UTIs) are some of the most common (and annoying) bacterial infections. Only people with a vagina can have BV, while UTIs plague both men and women. For both infections, however, people with female anatomy are more likely to have multiple UTIs and BV infections over their lifetime.
Learning about the similarities and differences between these two infections can help you detect symptoms for quicker, more effective treatment. Everlywell, with convenient at-home testing options and virtual healthcare, is your partner in the quest to keep UTIs and BV infections from ruining your day (and your health).
Many of us know when something just doesn’t feel right “down there,” but figuring out whether it is BV or a UTI is less cut-and-dry. This chart can help you understand the basics of these two common infections.
|Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)||Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)|
|Infection of the vagina||Yes||No|
|Infection of the urethra and bladder||No||Yes|
|Caused by bacteria that normally live in the body||Yes||Yes|
|Can be caused by sexual activity||Yes||Yes|
|Is sexually transmitted||No (except between female-female partners) ||No|
|Treated with antibiotics||Yes||Yes|
|Can be recurrent||Yes||Yes|
|Infects men and women||No||Yes|
|Prevention strategies reduce repeat infections||Yes||Yes|
|Common in pregnancy||Yes||Yes|
|Common during perimenopause and menopause||Yes||Yes|
|Can be treated by telehealth||Yes||Yes|
Part of being a human being is sharing your body with a broad diversity of invisible-to-the-naked-eye bacteria. You have a community (called a microbiome) of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in your gut, your vagina (if you have one), and your bladder .
Both BV and UTIs are caused by the wrong kind of bacteria moving into a new home, a different part of your body. An overgrowth of the wrong kind of bacteria in the vagina causes an inflammatory response. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common cause of abnormal vaginal discharge in reproductive-age females. Most people with BV notice :
Bacteria (most commonly E. coli) from your gut cause UTIs when they are transported from your anus to your urethra (the opening to the urinary tract) and up to your bladder (where your urine is stored) . The symptoms of a UTI in both genders are :
You’ll notice in looking through these symptom lists that there is some overlap. Both UTIs and BV can cause pelvic or abdominal pain, burning when peeing, and a change in the smell you might notice when making trips to the toilet. That’s why it can be helpful to talk through your symptoms with a healthcare provider, like those that can be accessed through Virtual Care Visits.
While neither BV nor UTI is sexually transmitted, people who are sexually active are more likely to have BV or UTIs [3-6]. Because some of the symptoms overlap with those of common STIs, testing for STIs is a necessary part of figuring out what is causing your symptoms and helping you feel better faster .
Abnormal vaginal discharge can result from certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis [6,7]. Infections cause by trichomonas, the herpes virus, gonorrhea, and chlamydia can also cause pain or burning when peeing. Everlywell’s convenient and discrete at-home STI screening tests for trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia can bring you peace of mind quickly and easily.
Once you have the right diagnosis, the good news is that antibiotics can easily treat UTIs and BV [2,3]. But, even with quick treatment, recurrence is common for both UTIs and BV. Healthcare providers classify UTIs as recurrent if you have more than two UTIs in six months or three to four diagnosed UTIs in one year . As many as 4 in 10 women who get a UTI will get at least one more within six months .
More women experience a repeat BV infection than a repeat UTI–half of all women diagnosed with BV will have a second infection within one year . Healthcare providers diagnose recurrent BV if you have three or more confirmed symptomatic BV episodes in one year .
If not treated correctly and immediately, both BV and UTIs are more likely to come back for a repeat visit. BV will sometimes go away without treatment and many people wonder whether you can get rid BV or UTIs naturally . Untreated infections can cause more serious health consequences.
Getting treated for BV may reduce your risk for some STDs . BV is usually treated either by taking antibiotics by mouth or with a vaginal cream . Untreated BV can lead to a serious infection of your pelvis and cause complications if you have pelvic surgery or a procedure while you have BV . BV can also increase your risk for infertility and preterm labor if you are pregnant.
UTI symptoms can also come and go, making some people think they go away on their own. Healthcare providers recommend taking antibiotics to treat UTIs to avoid more serious health consequences such as :
If you have symptoms of BV or a UTI, you should be checked and treated. It is important to take all of the medicine prescribed to you, even if your symptoms go away, to reduce your chances of a recurrent UTI or BV infection. Telehealth practitioners can provide you with helpful information about your symptoms, a care plan, and prevention strategies. Consider trying Everlywell's option for UTI treatment online.