Urinary Tract Infections & Bladder Infection

by eMedExpert staff
Medical references reviewed: August, 2018

Answers to many frequently asked questions about UTIs.

UTI vs Bladder infection

Is there a difference between UTI and bladder infection?

The general term Urinary tract infections (UTI) describes the group of infections that affect any part of the urinary tract, namely the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra.

The urinary tract infections are divided into:

  • Upper UTI - that involve kidneys (pyelonephritis) and ureters.
  • Lower UTI - that involve bladder (cystitis) and urethra.


Bladder infection means an infection of the bladder and is called cystitis.

So it becomes evident, that a bladder infection is a type of urinary tract infection.

Most UTIs represent acute uncomplicated cystitis (bladder infection). Women are 30 times more likely than men to develop a bladder infection.

As a bladder infection is the most common type of UTI, many people use "bladder infection" interchangeably with "UTI" or "urine infection".

Bladder infection (Cystitis) vs Kidney infection (Pyelonephritis)

What is the difference between cystitis and pyelonephritis?

Both cystitis and pyelonephritis are types of urinary tract infections.

Cystitis is an infection and inflammation of the bladder.

Pyelonephritis is an infection and inflammation of the renal pelvis and kidney. Pyelonephritis is a serious desease, which may require hospitalization.


Pyelonephritis (medical term for kidney infection) is usually more severe than cystitis (medical term for bladder infection).

Cystitis usually occurs with urination symptoms. Characteristic symptoms of bladder infection:

  • Frequent urination
  • Urgent need to urinate, even when you have only a small amount of urine to pass
  • Burning, painful feeling when urinating
  • Cloudy urine
  • Bacteriuria (presence of bacteria in urine)

If the following symptoms are present there is a high likelihood that the infection spreads to the kidneys and there is a risk of pyelonephritis:

  • Back or flank pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Tenderness of costovertebral (flank) areas


Both types of UTI (cystitis and pyelonephritis) are caused by bacteria.

The bacteria that cause cystitis typically enter the bladder via the urethra.

Kidney infections generally start as a bladder infection that travels up the ureters to the kidneys.

Most common causative bacteria in UTIs1, 2:

  • Escherichia coli - the predominant uropathogen in uncomplicated UTIs in adults and children, accounts for about 86% of cases
  • Enterococcus species
  • Klebsiella species
  • Proteus species
  • Enterobacter species
  • Staphylococcus saprophyticus
  • Staphylococcus aureus



Most UTIs require treatment with antibiotic. Treatment of UTI depends on location of the infection. Pyelonephritis and cystitis are treated differently.

Bladder infection in women is usually treated with a brief course of oral antibiotics.
See Antibiotics for bladder infection.

Uncomplicated pyelonephritis in women can be treated with course of oral fluoroquinolone antibiotics or with initial intravenous antimicrobial therapy followed by oral regimen. See Treatment of acute pyelonephritis in women.

Complicated pyelonephritis requires treatment with broad-spectrum parenteral antibiotics.

Note: Pyelonephritis in men is classified as complicated. Urinary tract infections in adult men are rare. Male UTIs often result from urinary tract abnormalities.


  • 1. Ronald A. The etiology of urinary tract infection: traditional and emerging pathogens. Dis Mon. 2003 Feb;49(2):71-82.
  • 2. Gupta K, et al. International clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of acute uncomplicated cystitis and pyelonephritis in women: A 2010 update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the European Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. Clin Infect Dis 52:e103, 2011

Published: May 20, 2018
Last updated: August 01, 2018

Urinary tract


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