Ureaplasma is a group of tiny bacteria that inhabit the respiratory and urogenital tract. They belong to a class of bacterial cells called mycoplasma and are the smallest free-living organisms in the world. They’re so tiny that they can’t be seen even through a microscope. Ureaplasma is a normal part of the human microbiome. Microbiomes are the trillions of tiny cells that live in and on the human body. These tiny organisms help you digest food, fight infections, and maintain reproductive health. Sometimes, typically harmless bacteria invade healthy tissues and replicate. This creates a colony of bacteria that can lead to infection. Ureaplasma has been associated with a variety of medical problems, including bacterial vaginosis and pregnancy complications. Ureaplasma infections appear to be associated with an increased risk of some problems, but not the direct cause.
Ureaplasma can be passed during sexual contact. Several studies found that vaginal infections with Ureaplasma were higher among women who had multiple sexual partners. These bacteria may also be passed to a fetus or newborn if the mother has Ureaplasma infection during pregnancy. Ureaplasma may also be found in women who have never been sexually active. Still, the cause of Ureaplasma presence may not be known in some cases.
What are the Symptoms?
Most people with Ureaplasma infection don’t experience any symptoms at all. Ureaplasma is a possible cause of inflammation in the urethra. This is called urethritis. Both men and women may experience the following symptoms of urethritis:
- pain during urination
- burning sensation
Ureaplasma is also a possible cause of bacterial vaginosis. Symptoms can include:
- watery vaginal discharge
- foul-smelling vaginal odor
Ureaplasma may also increase your risk for other conditions, including:
- kidney stones
- premature labor
- respiratory diseases in newborns
Antibiotic treatment is needed for infections of Ureaplasma. Only certain antibiotics are effective against these bacteria, however. The antibiotic chosen depends upon the health problem being addressed, and who is being treated. Some antibiotics are not safe for pregnant women. Urinary tract or genital infections caused by Ureaplasma can be treated with azithromycin or doxycycline. If the bacteria do not respond to these drugs, erythromycin or fluoroquinolones may be used.
Newborns with lung problems caused by Ureaplasma may be treated with erythromycin. Pregnant women who have premature rupture of membranes may be treated with macrolide antibiotics. These include clarithromycin, azithromycin, and erythromycin. Treatment with an antibiotic may reduce the risk of Ureaplasma infection in the newborn.
Does Ureaplasma Affect Fertility?
Doctors studied the presence of Ureaplasmas in infertile couples throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but the results were mostly inconclusive. Ureaplasma plays a role in the risk of preterm delivery. It’s crucial to understand that ureaplasma doesn’t cause preterm delivery. It’s only one part of a series of events.
Inflammation in the reproductive tissues is a very common cause of preterm delivery. Many things can lead to inflammation, including bacterial infections in the amniotic sac, cervix, and vagina. Doctors are still investigating ureaplasma as a possible contributing factor to inflammation.
Ureaplasma may play a role in the following pregnancy complications:
- premature rupture of the fetal membrane
- preterm labor
- intra-amniotic infection
How to Prevent Ureaplasma?
Only abstaining from sexual contact can prevent Ureaplasma transmission. However, some people may have Ureaplasma colonization without having sex. Ureaplasma is considered an opportunistic bacterium, which means that it is found in both healthy people and those with certain diseases. Opportunistic bacteria may be able to make someone sick when an illness or stress weakens the immune system and allows it to multiply and further invade the body. Getting treatment for medical conditions and having regular checkups with a doctor may help prevent these opportunities from occurring.
Many people have Ureaplasma as a normal part of their microbiome. However, the presence of Ureaplasma shouldn’t be much of a problem unless you’re pregnant. Doctors haven’t yet agreed whether pregnant women should be tested and treated for ureaplasma infections. If you’re worried about any pregnancy complications, make sure to talk to your doctor about your options.