Ureaplasma bacteria are part of the body's bacterial population, and they live in balance, without causing a problem, in most cases. Sometimes, however, they can increase in population, causing infection and health problems.
Ureaplasma belongs to a class of bacteria known as Mycoplasma. The Mycoplasma species are the smallest known organisms of their type that can make a copy of themselves to reproduce.
Ureaplasma does not have a cell wall, which makes it unique among bacteria. The lack of a cell wall makes it resistant to some common antibiotics, including penicillin. However, it can be treated with others.
Most people have Ureaplasma in their bodies and never know it. But, Ureaplasma has been linked to diseases and conditions that affect the male and female reproductive systems. It can also infect newborns if the mother passes the bacteria to the infant during pregnancy.
In this article, we examine how Ureaplasma is spread, the symptoms it can cause, and what treatment options are available.
Ureaplasma can cause fertility problems for men and women.
Ureaplasma can be passed during sexual contact. One study 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, according to another study.
As such, the cause of Ureaplasma presence may not be known in some cases.
Ureaplasma does not cause symptoms if it is living in balance with other bacteria. A healthy immune system can usually keep the bacteria in check, preventing them from causing infection.
If the Ureaplasma population increases, certain health problems may develop and cause symptoms.
The following symptoms are possible signs of Ureaplasma infection and should be checked by a doctor.
People should note that Ureaplasma may not be the only cause of these issues.
Trouble getting pregnant
The bacteria may affect the number of sperm and their ability to move in men. In women, it may cause an infection that makes pregnancy more difficult to achieve.
A study found that a particular Ureaplasma known as Ureaplasma urealyticum is seen more often in women with unexplained infertility. As a result, the authors suggest that women with unexplained infertility should be tested for the bacteria.
A genital tract infection may cause up to 15 percent of all cases of male infertility, but not all of these are due to Ureaplasma. Many of them are a result of sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.
A review of research found that U. urealyticum was associated with a higher risk of infertility in men. Another type, Ureaplasma parvum, was not linked to male infertility.
Pain, discharge, and itching of the genital area
Ureaplasma infection may cause some conditions that lead to pain and discomfort in the genital area. They include:
- Urethritis: An inflammation of the urethra or tube that carries urine out of the body. Urethritis can cause pain or burning while urinating, itching around the urethra, and an unusual or foul-smelling discharge.
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV): An infection in the vagina. BV can cause foul-smelling or unusual vaginal discharge, itching in and around the vagina, and burning during urination.
Pelvic or abdominal pain
Ureaplasma has been linked to several different health problems that can cause pain in the pelvic, abdominal, or groin area. These include:
- Prostatitis: An inflammation of the prostate gland. Prostatitis may cause pain during urination, cloudy or bloody urine, difficulty urinating, pain in the genital area, and an urgent need to urinate.
- Endometritis: An inflammation of the lining of the womb. This can cause pelvic pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, and fever. Endometritis can be caused by different bacteria, but Ureaplasma infection has been linked to the condition in the past.
- Kidney stones: Ureaplasma may play a role in the formation of kidney stones in some people. Kidney stones can cause severe pain in the pelvic area, lower back, abdomen, fever, problems urinating, and cloudy, bloody, or foul-smelling urine.
Ureaplasma in pregnant women and newborns
Premature babies may be more prone to Ureaplasma.
Premature babies, especially those that weigh 1,000 grams (about 2.2 pounds) or less, may be more prone to Ureaplasma infection.
Newborns may develop:
Also, a fetus can become infected with Ureaplasma before birth, which can lead to:
- premature rupture of membranes
- premature birth
Pregnant women can be treated for Ureaplasma infections, which greatly reduces the chance of these complications.
How is Ureaplasma diagnosed?
A biopsy or swab, which is tested in a lab, is used to diagnose Ureaplasma. The biopsy or swab may be taken from the vagina, uterine lining, urethra, or urine sample.
Due to its small size, Ureaplasma is nearly impossible to see under a microscope. Identifying Ureaplasma requires specialized lab tests and equipment.
Antibiotics are needed to treat Ureaplasma infections.
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. Certain antibiotics are not safe for pregnant women or newborns.
Urinary tract or genital infections caused by Ureaplasma may 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.
How do you prevent Ureaplasma?
Only abstaining from sexual contact can prevent Ureaplasma transmission. But, some people may have Ureaplasma colonization without having sex.
Ureaplasma is considered an opportunistic bacteria, which means it is found in both healthy people and those with certain diseases.
Opportunistic bacteria may be able to make someone sick when an illness, stress, or other opportunity 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.
The outlook for Ureaplasma infection depends upon what health problems it is causing, and the severity of the condition. Fortunately, certain antibiotics are effective against the bacteria and often clear up infections when taken as directed.
Pregnant women should see their obstetrician regularly for prenatal checkups and should discuss any unusual symptoms. This can help avoid any complications for the mother or baby.