Ureaplasma: Everything You Need to Know

    Published 07 April 2020
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Olga Adereyko, MD, Primary Care Physician, General Practitioner, Medical Consultant
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    Ureaplasma is a tiny strain of bacteria found in your urinary or genital tract that may be passed from one partner to another through sexual activity. Learn the hard facts behind ureaplasma, how to spot an infection, and its long-term consequences for your health.

    What is ureaplasma?

    Ureaplasma is a highly contagious bacteria which is significantly smaller than conventional bacteria. It’s capable of damaging both the male and female reproductive systems. Aside from sexual transmission, a ureaplasma infection may also be passed from a mother to a fetus or newborn. The exact causes of ureaplasma are sometimes difficult to pinpoint. 

    Ureaplasma symptoms

    A healthy individual with a strong immune system is usually capable of keeping ureaplasma bacteria in check, preventing its spread to other parts of the body. However, if the concentration of ureaplasma species increases, it could result in serious medical complications. 

    While ureaplasma has been known to remain asymptomatic in some cases, potential signs and symptoms of ureaplasma include:

    Fertility issues

    The presence of ureaplasma in both men and women experiencing fertility problems implies a link between the two. Ureaplasma urealyticum is an etiological agent often found in patients who are struggling with unexplained infertility. Note that for women, in particular, a ureaplasma infection (in conjunction with other underlying factors) makes conception very difficult. 

    Pain and discomfort

    A ureaplasma infection may produce itching and discomfort in your genital area, as well as discharge and abdominal or pelvic pain. 

    Other conditions

    If you’ve been diagnosed with ureaplasma, a failure to start antibiotic therapy can produce major health complications. 

    Ureaplasma infections have been associated with several conditions including urinary stones, nongonococcal urethritis, certain gynecological disorders, and chronic lung disease. Unfortunately, it simultaneously raises your baby’s chances of developing retinopathy of prematurity and neonatal bronchopulmonary dysplasia.

    Ureaplasma symptoms in men

    Males with ureaplasma bacteria could experience the following symptoms:

    • A painful, burning sensation when urinating
    • Urethral discharge

    Ureaplasma symptoms in women

    Females with ureaplasma bacteria could experience the following symptoms:

    Causes of ureaplasma

    As mentioned, ureaplasma urealyticum can be transmitted through sexual activity as well as during childbirth. However, the full range of possible causes behind ureaplasma infections is not yet known. 

    How does ureaplasma affect fertility?

    In controlled studies, couples with ureaplasma infections who were given antibiotics witnessed an increase in the likelihood of pregnancy versus couples who didn’t receive antibiotics. If you’re planning to undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF), your doctor might test for a ureaplasma infection and if necessary, begin treatment before proceeding. 

    Ureaplasma during pregnancy

    Scientific evidence shows a connection between having a large vaginal concentration of ureaplasma bacteria and premature birth, not to mention preterm rupture of membranes. A premature birth is defined as taking place three or more weeks before the estimated due date. Babies born prematurely carry a higher risk of perinatal morbidity and mortality. 

    Ureaplasma bacteria has also been conclusively linked to pneumonia and newborn meningitis. Recent research attributes issues with inflammation early in utero to ureaplasma infections in pregnant women. This could lead to bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), postnatal systemic infections, and intrauterine chorioamnionitis, all of which have serious consequences for both mother and child. 

    Treatment of ureaplasma

    Ureaplasma testing typically requires a swab of the vagina, uterine lining, or urethra, or a urine sample. Once the presence of ureaplasma has been confirmed, your doctor will begin a course of antibiotics. However, only certain types of antibiotics are effective at fighting a ureaplasma infection, while others are considered unsafe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. 

    Antibiotics can typically tackle ureaplasma infections. Just remember that it’s critical to seek ureaplasma treatment as quickly as possible to protect your long-term health. 

    Preventing ureaplasma

    Abstaining from sexual activity is probably the best option for avoiding a ureaplasma infection. Many remain unaware of their ureaplasma and end up passing it onto others without knowing it. Routine use of condoms can help reduce your chances of transmitting or contracting ureaplasma. 

    Ureaplasma is an opportunistic bacteria, meaning it could stay in a healthy person’s immune system, without any symptoms, then multiply when their immunity is compromised. Regular checkups to detect signs of a ureaplasma infection allow you to nip the problem in the bud.

    When to see a doctor for ureaplasma

    If you suspect you have a urinary tract infection (UTI) or display any symptoms of ureaplasma (e.g., urination difficulties/abnormalities or urethral discharge), see a doctor immediately. Even if you’re cleared for ureaplasma infection, you could be diagnosed with a UTI or sexually transmitted infection (STI). That’s why it’s important to get tested as soon as possible.

    Takeaway

    Despite being fairly common, ureaplasma infections could trigger many medical complications, including infertility. Ureaplasma bacteria may be transmitted through sexual contact or during childbirth. 

    Ureaplasma infections prove especially dangerous for pregnant women, increasing the likelihood of premature birth and serious health problems for mother and child. Knowing how to spot the symptoms of a ureaplasma infection lets you begin treatment early and minimize damage.

    History of updates

    Current version (07 April 2020)

    Reviewed by Olga Adereyko, MD, Primary Care Physician, General Practitioner, Medical Consultant

    Published (07 April 2020)

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