Have you ever sensed an impending problem with your lady bits, but were unable to tell if it was a mere urinary tract infection or the dreaded sexually transmitted infection? The symptoms can be so similar that it's a common conundrum for women, but that's why we look to doctors to help us tell the difference between an STI and UTI. According to recent research, however, all that medical school training doesn't always mean they're right. A new study from Case Western Reserve University found that nearly half the time, UTIs and STIs are misdiagnosed in emergency departments — and not only that, they're often mistaken for each other, too. According to lead author Michelle Hecker, MD., UTIs are frequently overdiagnosed, while STIs were passed over in more than a third of the 264 women in the study. Not only does this frequent mix-up contribute to antibiotic resistance when women are needlessly prescribed medicine to combat their supposed UTIs, but it also causes underdiagnosis of other infections. "64 percent of the patients with a missed STI were diagnosed as having a UTI instead," researchers wrote in the American Society for Microbiology, and women were frequently diagnosed without a urine culture, according to the report.
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Scientists believe that much of the misdiagnoses have to do with the similarity of symptoms. STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause burning during urination, pelvic pain, and frequent urination; meanwhile, lower urinary tract infections can cause... well, literally the same symptoms. To make matters worse, it's difficult to differentiate them even after urinalysis, according to Science Daily, so it's understandable that an ER doctor, who most likely spends more time doing data entry than interacting with patients, would miss the signs.
That being said... yikes. Despite common wisdom, STIs can often be asymptomatic, which makes it even more important for doctors to be able to catch them before they get passed on to others. However, it should be noted that this was based on data from female visitors to the MetroHealth Medical Center Emergency Department, so it doesn't necessarily mean that women across the nation are being misdiagnosed, especially in other areas of medicine. On the other hand, the results warrant further investigation, and if the trend holds up in other emergency rooms, we can start freaking out. Until then, maybe just ask for a urine culture if they forget to order one, hideously embarrassing as the prospect may be.
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