Is It a Bladder Infection or an Overactive Bladder? | Keck Medicine of USC

Is It a Bladder Infection or an Overactive Bladder?

Although a bladder infection and an overactive bladder have some similar symptoms, they also have key differences. Read on to learn more.

You feel an overwhelming urge to go, almost so strong you can’t control it, but is it a bladder infection or an overactive bladder?

While only a doctor can make the correct diagnosis, it’s important to understand the difference between the two.

What is a bladder infection?

Bladder infections, also called urinary tract infections (UTI), are much more common in women than in men because women have a shorter urethra (the tube that connects to the bladder and leads urine out of the body). This makes it easier for bacteria to enter the bladder.

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Common symptoms of a UTI include:

  • An uncontrollable urge to urinate
  • Only being able to urinate a little at a time
  • Pain and burning during urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Cloudy-looking urine
  • Pelvic pain

Your doctor will perform a urinalysis to look for blood and bacteria in your urine. UTIs are generally treated with antibiotics, and symptoms typically clear up within a few days after starting treatment.

What is overactive bladder?

Overactive bladder, on the other hand, is a condition where you feel a sudden and urgent need to urinate. It may be so strong that you aren’t able to resist it and have an accident with leakage of urine.

Overactive bladder is more common as we age, but it can still occur in younger patients. It may be a result of:

  • An enlarged prostate in men
  • Diabetes
  • Neurological disorders associated with strokes or multiple sclerosis
  • Medication
  • Drinking too much caffeine or alcohol

While a conversation about urine may not be at the top of your to-do list, it’s important to discuss any issues or symptoms with your doctor. They can recommend lifestyle modifications, medications or surgical treatments that can help improve the situation.

“Patients with overactive bladder and urinary tract infections can both have bothersome symptoms, such as urinary frequency, urgency and urinary incontinence,” says David Ginsberg, MD, a urologist at USC Urology at Keck Medicine of USC and professor of clinical urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

“Overactive bladder symptoms are often slowly progressive, and over time, the urgency may become severe enough where it is associated with urinary leakage. Thankfully, both urinary tract infections and overactive bladder are usually easily treated.”

by Anne Fritz

If you’re experiencing pain, difficulty or any unusual symptoms associated with urinating, reach out to your primary care physician for help. If you are local to Southern California and are in search of a primary care physician, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit to schedule an appointment.