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The chances of a woman’s pain being a UTI are far greater than having an ovarian cyst — but the symptoms are similar.

A urinary tract infection, more often shortened to UTI, is an infection that can involve any single element of the urinary tract, or all of it. The urinary tract is composed of the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. A simple UTI is one that only includes the urethra and bladder, while a complex one adds the kidneys. Once the kidneys are involved, the pain and seriousness become more urgent. If left untreated the infection may spread to the blood. That condition is called sepsis and is a full-blown emergency.

A urinary tract infection is most often attributed to the bacteria E. coli. This bacteria lives in the intestines and in a healthy person seldom cause problems. However, if it manages to make its way into the urethra it can bring on a painful UTI. A UTI can also be caused by malformations or blockages in the urinary tract, though this is less likely.

What is an ovarian cyst?

Ovarian cysts can be asymptomatic to the point that a woman never realizes she has them. They can go away on their own and are completely harmless. Others, of course, may cause pain, pressure, and need intervention before they cause more complex issues.

An ovarian cyst is a pocket, or sac, of fluid that grows in or on a female’s ovaries. Most of them are benign; meaning they don’t cause any obvious symptoms. If they are large, there may be some symptoms that affect the urinary tract and the reproductive system.

If the larger cysts are located in the proximity of the bladder, they may put pressure on it, which in turn will give a woman discomfort. This discomfort has the ability to mimic the symptoms of a urinary tract infection. Sometimes, the pressure bestowed upon the bladder can actually cause a UTI, thus confusing the situation even more.

Ovarian cysts are either simple or complex. The ones referred to as simple hold only fluid, while those deemed complex are filled with fluid and solid components.

Comparing symptoms of a UTI and ovarian cysts

Many of the symptoms that plague a woman who suffers from ovarian cysts are also present during a urinary tract infection. This may bring on confusion, and sometimes, unnecessary worry.

The symptoms that are the same in both include:

  • Pressure or a feeling of fullness in the lower abdomen
  • A more frequent or urgent desire to urinate
  • A feeling of something pushing on the bladder
  • Pain during sex or urination

UTI symptoms that don’t mimic ovarian cysts include:

  • Burning while urinating
  • Cloudy, white, dark, pink, or red tinged urine
  • Less productive urination
  • Incontinence
  • Urinary retention
  • Mental changes
  • Fever and chills

The confusion may grow if the pressure from the large cysts causes an actual urinary tract infection. A woman will have all the correct symptoms and chances are she will be treated for only the UTI, since the urinalysis and culture done by the doctor show an infection and bacteria present in her urine.

If the pain and other related symptoms subside after treatment and do not return, then the condition the female was suffering from was most likely a UTI. But, if the symptoms continue or return, more evaluation and tests may be required.

How does my doctor make a diagnosis between a UTI and ovarian cysts?

Distinguishing between a urinary tract infection and ovarian cysts can be a long and often frustrating experience for a woman. It involves the process of elimination. The first, and most obvious tests will be a urinalysis and culture to check for a UTI. If these tests are positive, a woman will probably undergo a round of antibiotics to relieve the symptoms and cure the infection.

Once she is retested and it is proven that the UTI has been cleared, then the remaining symptoms, if any, will be discussed between the woman and her physician.

The next step could be a kidney and bladder scan, or a cystoscopy (a hollow tube with a camera lens is inserted into the urethra and advanced into the bladder). These tests are meant to rule out such issues as kidney stones or unidentified infections.

When no complications are discovered in the urinary tract, then more advance testing is needed. The doctor may order an ultrasound, and/or an MRI. In these cases, the doctor will be searching for ovarian cysts or ovarian cancer.

Treatments for UTIs and ovarian cysts

The common treatment for a urinary tract infection is antibiotics. A simple infection, urethra and bladder only, will be treated with three to seven days of antibiotics. A more complex UTI, one that involves the kidneys, will receive seven to fourteen days of antibiotics. If the patient is too ill to take medication by mouth, too dehydrated, or the infection has spread to the blood, then hospitalization with intravenous antibiotics and fluids will be demanded.

Ovarian cysts are likely to resolve themselves with no treatment or intervention necessary. The will simply dissolve or rupture. Even if they rupture, there may be no noticeable symptoms.

However, if the cysts rupture and there is intense or rising pain, and dizziness then the patient must seek medical aid. Either immediately go to a doctor or an emergency room, especially if there is bleeding involved.

Most normal symptoms of an ovarian cyst are treated conservatively. Usually, only over the counter or prescription pain medication is necessary until the cysts are gone. Surgery is only used if the cyst turns out to be a tumor, there is excessive bleeding, or another life-threatening event occurs because of the ovarian cysts.


The chances of a woman’s pain being a UTI are far greater than having an ovarian cyst. Fifty percent of females will have one or more UTIs in their lifetime. They are painful, inconvenient, and frustrating. But, if they are caught in the early stages, easily resolved.

To prevent them:

  • Drink water – six to eight glasses a day
  • Wipe from front to back
  • Wear cotton underwear
  • Urinate immediately after sex
  • Empty the bladder often and completely
  • Follow good hygiene

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