Ureaplasma: Symptoms, Transmission & Treatment

Updated in December 2023

Ureaplasma is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by Ureaplasma urealyticum bacteria. It can affect both men and women. 

This bacteria can be found naturally along the urinary tract without causing any signs or symptoms. However, due to immune weakness or multiple sexual partners, it is possible for this bacteria to multiply and cause inflammation and infection.

It is important for ureaplasma infections to be properly identified and treated with antibiotics according to the doctor's instructions to reduce the risk of complications, especially during pregnancy.

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Main symptoms

Generally, having ureaplasma bacteria does not cause any signs or symptoms, however some of the main symptoms that can appear in the event of infection are:

  • Pain when urinating
  • Burning and stinging when urinating
  • Vaginal or penile discharge, which can have a strong, foul smell
  • Discomfort and redness in the genital area
  • Increased sensitivity 
  • Pain during sexual intercourse.

Ureaplasma urealyticum usually causes inflammation of the urethra, which is known as urethritis, but it can also be related to bacterial vaginosis and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women.

It is important that ureaplasma infections are identified and treated, as an infection can lead to infertility in women. The relationship between ureaplasma and infertility in men has not yet been proven, although some studies suggest a decrease in sperm count. It may also be assoxiated an increased risk of epididymitis, which is inflammation of the epididymis, a canal that is responsible for collecting and storing sperm. 

How it’s transmitted

Ureaplasma is naturally present in the urinary and reproductive systems of men and women, but it is possible for this bacterium to be transmitted through unprotected sex.

The risk of infection is greater when the person has a weaker immune system and/or multiple sexual partners. These conditions csn cause an imbalance in the urinary and genital microbiota, leading to the proliferation of ureaplasma.

In addition to sexual transmission, ureaplasma can also be transmitted to the baby during pregnancy or at the time of delivery. This transmission can increase the risk of complications during pregnancy and lead to premature birth or low low birth weight if left untreated.

Ureaplasma in pregnancy

Ureaplasma in pregnancy can increase the risk of premature birth, premature rupture of the amniotic sac and miscarriage. In addition, infection with this bacterium can also increase the risk of lung disease in the newborn, low birth weight, pneumonia and chorioamnionitis. 

It is therefore important that ureaplasma infections are properly identified and treated during pregnancy as directed by the OBGYN in order to reduce the risk of transmission to the baby and further complications.

Confirming a diagnosis

Diagnosing ureaplasma infection can be difficult, as most cases are asymptomatic and it is a bacterium that is naturally present in the urogenital tract. However, if a ureaplasma infection is suspected, the gynecologist, urologist or general practitioner may order a culture urine test or a culture genital swab for analysis in the lab.

Treatment for ureaplasma

Treatment for ureaplasma should be directed by the gynecologist or urologist, who will usually prescribe antibiotics such as azithromycin or doxycycline. If treatment is not effective, levofloxacin or erythromycin may be recommended.

In some cases, the doctor may also recommend that the treatment be carried out by the sexual partner. Condoms should be used during treatment to prevent re-transmission and re-infection.