Knowing the Difference between Urinary Incontinence and a Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary incontinence (UI) is a common condition that millions of American women deal with on a daily basis. However, depending on the severity, it’s not always easy to distinguish urinary incontinence from other conditions, especially urinary tract infections (UTIs). Given that a frequent sensation of urgency is common to both some forms of urinary incontinence and UTIs, it’s no surprise that you may occasionally mistake one for the other. Let’s start by talking about what a UTI is to help distinguish it from the varied forms of urinary incontinence.

Understanding Urinary Tract Infections

As Medical News Today explains, urinary tract infections are caused by microbes, typically bacteria, making their way past the body’s natural defenses to travel up the urinary tract. Left untreated, a UTI can spread to affect the bladder, as well as the kidneys and all of their interconnections. You may notice that women tend to develop UTIs more easily. This is largely a result of the fact that biological women have a much shorter urethra then biological men, given that a male urethra extends the entire length of the penis. The increase in distance makes it harder for harmful bacteria to get through.

If your goal is prevention, then proper hygiene is your main go-to. The aim is to keep the area near the urethral opening clean. Therefore, sexual activities, and anything else that increases the possibility of introducing foreign bacteria should be followed by proper bathing. Diabetes, pregnancy, kidney stones, and menopause also increase your risk of developing a UTI, so practice preventative hygiene and speak with a doctor immediately if you begin showing symptoms.

The symptoms of a UTI are often minor at first, but generally grow more insistent. The Mayo Clinic emphasizes three categories that women should pay attention to if they suspect they have a UTI: sensation, smell, and sight.

  • Sensation: If you feel an urgency to frequently urinate, experience a burning sensation while relieving yourself, or experience pelvic pain associated with one or more of these symptoms, then go to the doctor.
  • Smell: If your urine has a strong scent, and you’re well-hydrated, then go to the doctor.
  • Sight: If your urine appears cloudy or shows any sign of blood outside of your normal cycle, then go to the doctor.

Understanding Urinary Incontinence

UTIs affect roughly 50% of women during their lifetime, but they are highly treatable as long as patients recognize the symptoms and seek treatment. Urinary incontinence, on the other hand, affects up to 70% of women at some point in their lives with most of them believing that it is simply part of life. UTIs are one common cause of temporary urinary incontinence, but most chronic cases are linked to the weakening of the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, especially after pregnancy.

In the case of urinary incontinence, you may experience many of the same sensation-based symptoms of a UTI but without the associated changes in smell and color. In addition to the urgency, frequency, and burning sensation, many patients with UI also find themselves waking up two or more times during the night, wetting the bed, or having difficulty fully emptying their bladder. Fortunately, UI doesn’t just have to be part of your life anymore. There are treatment options that can help.

Treating Urinary Incontinence

At Essentially You, Dr. Terri-Ann Samuels helps patients with UI find treatment options that work. Testing may be required to ensure the most successful treatment, but it will help Dr. Sameuls to come up with a personalized approach to your problem. Lifestyle changes, medications, and surgery are sometimes required to improve your quality of life. However, you may also find that Botox applied to the bladder walls or Interstim stimulation are what works best for you.