Difference between a UTI and Kidney Stones

Updated on March 27, 2017

Kidney stones and a UTI may both affect the urinary tract, but they are far from being identical. Despite their similarities, there are a lot of factors that set these two conditions apart. This article will lay out their differences.

Definitions

UTI
Parts of the body that can be affected by UTI

A urinary tract infection, also known as a UTI, is a type of infection that can affect the ureters, the urethra, the bladder, and/or the kidneys. A medical condition more prevalent to women, UTIs usually involve parts of the lower urinary tract such as the urethra and the bladder.

A UTI is usually caused by a bacterial infection. Anatomically, the urethra – a tiny tube that releases urine outside the body – is positioned near the anal opening. Because of their close proximity, bacteria from the large intestine can easily enter the urinary tract by passing through the urethra until it invades the bladder. When left untreated, the infection can spread up to the kidneys. Since the urethra of women is shorter, they are more vulnerable to acquiring a UTI than men.

Kidney stones
Kidney stones

Kidney stones, on the other hand, are mineral deposits that develop abnormally in the kidneys. Also known as nephrolithiasis and renal lithiasis, kidney stones are mostly made up of acid salts and minerals.

Several factors contribute to the formation of kidney stones. When urine becomes concentrated, minerals crystallize, resulting in the development of stones. Although this condition does not always cause permanent damage to the body, the passing of kidney stones through the urinary tract can be extremely painful.

UTI vs Kidney Stones

So what’s the difference between a UTI and kidney stones? While both affect the urinary tract, they greatly vary in a number of ways. First, kidney stones are mineral deposits that form in either one or two kidneys, whereas a UTI is a type of infection that enters the urethra and spreads to the bladder and other parts of the urinary tract.

Kidney stones frequently do not have one definite cause, but several factors heighten a person’s risk for acquiring kidney stones. For one, kidney stones can build up when the urine mainly contains substances that can easily crystallize. These substances usually include oxalate, calcium, and uric acid. Also, kidney stones can form when the urine lacks the substances necessary to prevent minerals from crystallizing and sticking together.

Meanwhile, UTIs occur when bacteria such as E. coli enter the urinary tract through the urethra. This may be caused by sex or poor hygiene methods. Even though the urinary tract has natural defensive barriers, there are instances when bacteria from the large intestine are able to break through these barriers. Once the bacteria enters the urethra, they multiply in the bladder. When left untreated, the infection can spread up to the kidneys.

Even though kidney stones and a UTI both cause nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and pinkish discoloration in the urine, there are still notable differences in terms of their physical manifestations. Patients suffering from kidney stones experience lower abdominal pain, frequent urination, and pain during urination. Those with a UTI, on the other hand, suffer from abdominal pain, urinary urgency, a burning sensation during urination, pelvic pain, and a strong odor.

Additionally, there are different types of kidney stones and UTIs. The different types of kidney stones include calcium stones, uric acid stones, cystine stones, struvite stones, and xanthine stones. Meanwhile, a UTI is categorized based on the organ it affects. While infection in the kidneys is called acute pyelonephritis, infection in the bladder and the urethra are called cystitis and urethritis, respectively.

Lastly, the treatment for kidney stones and UTIs depend on the severity of the disease, along with the number of affected areas. While increasing fluid intake is helpful to prevent the progression of both diseases, their treatment plans are far from being alike. To eliminate kidney stones, medications, along with tunnel surgery, lithotripsy, extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, or ureteroscopy may be necessary. Meanwhile, a UTI can be treated by taking prescribed antibiotics.

Comparison Chart

UTIKidney Stones
A type of infection that may affect the ureters, urethra, bladder or kidneysMineral deposits that form in either one or two kidneys
Occurs when bacteria such as E. coli enters the urinary tract through the urethraCan build up when urine mainly contains substances that can easily crystallize or when the urine lacks the substances necessary to prevent minerals from crystallizing
May be caused by sex or poor hygiene methodsFrequently do not have one definite cause
Symptoms include abdominal pain, urinary urgency, a burning sensation during urination, pelvic pain and a strong odorSymptoms include lower abdominal pain, frequent urination, and pain in urination
The types of UTIs include acute pyelonephritis, cystitis, and urethritisTypes of kidney stones include calcium stones, uric acid stones, cystine stones, struvite stones, and xanthine stones
Can be treated by taking prescribed antibioticsTreatment options include medications, along with tunnel surgery, lithotripsy, extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy or ureteroscopy