Interstitial Cystitis vs UTI

Cindy Wilson Thumbby Cindy Wilson
BS, Dietetics and Nutrition

Due to their similarity in symptoms, interstitial cystitis and urinary tract infections (UTIs) often confuse most people. A urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection in the urinary tract. Importantly, urinary tract infection causes cystitis, a medical term describing the bladder’s inflammation.

Interstitial cystitis is a painful but non-infectious health condition caused by severe bladder inflammation. Importantly, interstitial cystitis and UTI cases are more frequent in females than in males, and these two health conditions have the same symptoms but require different treatments.

The Urology Care Foundation found that about eight million women and four million men suffer from interstitial cystitis in the U.S. Many people who suffer from interstitial cystitis say they began experiencing its symptoms in childhood. As a result, scientists and medical practitioners find it essential to start searching for interstitial cystitis symptoms in young children.

About Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial cystitis is a painful bladder infection. As a result, it is commonly known as “painful bladder syndrome” (PBS). People with interstitial cystitis experience mild discomfort and chronic pain.

However, its specific cause is unknown, despite many related factors. For example, people suffering from interstitial cystitis are likely to have a deficiency in the bladder’s epithelium. As a result, a leak in this protective lining may allow harmful substances in urine to cause discomfort in the bladder wall. 

interstitial cystitis

The human bladder is a muscular and hollow internal organ that stores urine. The bladder informs the brain through pelvic nerves that it’s time to urinate when it’s full. As a result, people experience discomfort that urges them to urinate.

However, with interstitial cystitis, you feel a constant urge to urinate regardless of the volume of urine in the bladder.

Furthermore, interstitial cystitis negatively affects women’s quality of life as it affects them more. Interstitial cystitis has no cure, but some medications and treatments help numb the pain.

According to 2006 research by the CDC Research Institute, almost 12% of women have early symptoms of interstitial cystitis.


Each patient may experience different signs and symptoms of interstitial cystitis. Additionally, symptoms differ over time due to frequent causes such as stress, menstruation, sexual activity, and exercise.

Interstitial cystitis symptoms include:

  • Chronic pain in the pelvis
  • Severe pain between the vagina and anus in women
  • Chronic pain between the anus and scrotum in men
  • The constant pressing need to urinate
  • Regular urination, mostly in small quantities, almost 60 times a day
  • Mild discomfort or severe pain as the bladder expands and relief after urinating
  • Pain during sexual activity
interstitial cystitis symptoms

However, each person experiences these symptoms differently. As a result, some interstitial cystitis patients may not experience symptoms sometimes. Although people experiencing these symptoms may easily think they have a urinary tract infection, there’s no bacterial infection. Nevertheless, these symptoms may deteriorate when an interstitial cystitis patient gets a UTI.


There’s no easy way to get rid of the symptoms of interstitial cystitis. Furthermore, what works for one person may not work for another. Most people must try different treatments or combinations to find the one that eliminates interstitial cystitis symptoms.

Some patients find that consulting a physical therapist helps. Sessions provided by the therapist may help reduce pelvic pain related to muscle tenderness or restrictive connective tissue. Some patients experience a temporary improvement after bladder distention. This procedure involves stretching the bladder with water. The doctor may repeat this procedure if the patient shows long–term improvement.

About UTIs

A urinary tract infection is caused by a bacterial infection in any section of the urinary system. The urinary system comprises the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. However, most bacterial infections occur in the lower urinary tract, the urethra, and the bladder. But, there is discomfort and chronic pain only if the bladder is affected.

Furthermore, women are disproportionately affected by urinary tract infections more than men. A person suffering from a UTI can also experience other serious health conditions if it spreads to the kidneys. Healthcare practitioners often use antibiotics to medicate UTIs.

interstitial cystitis inflammation of urinary bladder wall

When bacteria infiltrate the urinary tract through the urethra and advance to the bladder, you might get a UTI. Usually, the urinary system should be able to fight bacteria. However, sometimes it fails. As a result, bacteria enter the urinary system and spread into a mature infection in the bladder.  

Urinary tract infections occur in two types. First, bladder infection often occurs because of E. coli, and this bacteria is usually found in the gastrointestinal tract. However, other bacteria can also cause infection of the bladder.

Furthermore, having sexual intercourse can also cause a bladder infection. But, due to the female anatomy, all females are likely to get bladder infections regardless of sexual activity.

First, the urethra and anus are close together. Additionally, the urethral hole is close to the bladder. As a result, bacteria around the anus can easily enter the urethra and move to the bladder.

Second, infection of the urethra typically takes place when the gastrointestinal tract bacteria expand from the anus to the urethra. Additionally, sexually transmitted diseases can also trigger infection of the urethra. These sexually transmitted diseases include gonorrhea, herpes, mycoplasma, and chlamydia.


A person with a UTI may not always experience symptoms. However, below are the common symptoms associated with UTIs:

  • A pressing urge to urinate
  • Severe pain when urinating
  • Urinating frequently and often in small volumes
  • Murky urine
  • Bright-pink, red, or cola-colored urine
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Chronic pelvic pain


Antibiotics are often the initial treatment for UTIs. The type of bacteria detected in your urine and overall health impacts the type of medicine required and the duration of use.

Doctors may prescribe fluoroquinolone to patients experiencing complicated cases of urinary tract infection. However, these antibiotics are not for simple cases of urinary tract infections. Symptoms often take a few days to go away when treating them with fluoroquinolones. However, patients may need to continue treatment for more than a week.

A healthcare practitioner may provide a shorter treatment plan for simple UTI cases. This might require medication for only three days. Your healthcare provider may also give you additional medication to reduce the burning sensation when urinating.

Similarities Between Interstitial Cystitis and UTI

Both interstitial cystitis and urinary tract infections occur more often in women than in men. People with these health conditions may experience similar symptoms, such as chronic pelvic pain and the urgency to urinate, even if the volume of urine in the bladder is small.

Moreover, both are infections within the urinary tract; the bladder for interstitial cystitis and the entire urinary system for UTIs.

Differences Between UTI and Interstitial Cystitis

Urinary tract infection manifests more than interstitial cystitis. According to the Interstitial Cystitis Association, 3-6% of females in the United States have interstitial cystitis. In contrast, 20% of females contract at least one urinary tract infection.

There are three significant differences between interstitial cystitis and urinary tract infections.

  • First, lower UTI can trigger interstitial cystitis but not all the time. On the contrary, interstitial cystitis can’t cause urinary tract infections.
  • Second, interstitial cystitis is a bladder inflammation and only affects the bladder. On the other hand, urinary tract infections may occur in the bladder, the ureters, and kidneys.
  • Third, urinary tract infection is bacterial. Although interstitial cystitis is a bladder inflammation, a bacterial infection can trigger it. Furthermore, immune dysfunction can also cause interstitial cystitis.

Another way of differentiating between interstitial cystitis and urinary tract infection is through treatment. Healthcare practitioners use antibiotics to treat UTIs. As a result, symptoms should go away within a couple of weeks after getting a full antibiotic treatment course. If symptoms such as chronic bladder pain and the urgency to urinate continue to persist, a patient should see the doctor again to ensure they are healed. 

However, interstitial cystitis patients experience severe inflammation and bladder pain even when their urine tests are negative. Since interstitial cystitis is not the only health condition that can cause chronic inflammation and bladder pain, it’s essential to consult a relevant health practitioner for a diagnosis.

Interstitial cystitis and urinary tract infection may differ, but both conditions cause chronic pain for the patient.


Many people often confuse interstitial cystitis with urinary tract infection, and these health conditions are painful to the patient. Additionally, interstitial cystitis and urinary tract infection share many similar symptoms. As a result, a person experiencing similar symptoms may think they have interstitial cystitis.

Furthermore, females are more likely to suffer from both infections than males. However, the most common of these health conditions is urinary tract infection. While interstitial cystitis and UTI can be easily confused, urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection, while interstitial cystitis is not. Some people confuse UTIs with sexually transmitted diseases, but they are different. We hope this article helped clarify the differences.

About Author

Cindy Wilson Thumb
BS, Nutrition & Food Science | Connect with on LinkedIn
Cindy Wilson

Hello, I am Cindy, and this a website where I inspect everything related to nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. I have a BS in Dietetics and Nutrition (Kansas State University) and have completed a dozen specialty courses related to nutrition, biochemistry, and food science. I am open to learning more, but foremost I would like to share all my knowledge with you.

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