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Guide to Ureaplasma

Guide to Ureaplasma

Guide to Ureaplasma

Everything you need to know.

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Sabrina Bezerra, Erin Rommel & Maria Papazova

Reviewed by

Sarah Montagu (NPs, SRH). Sarah is a highly-qualified sexual and reproductive health nurse with 15+ years of experience.


31st May 2024

Ureaplasma is a type of bacteria that is commonly found in the human urinary and genital tracts. While Ureaplasma is often present without causing any issues, it can sometimes lead to infections or other health problems. In this guide, we'll provide an overview of Ureaplasma, including what it is, how it's transmitted, potential health effects, and treatment options.

What is Ureaplasma?

Ureaplasma is a group of bacteria that are classified as part of the Mycoplasma family. There are 14 different identified species of Ureaplasma, with the two most common being Ureaplasma urealyticum and Ureaplasma parvum.

Ureaplasma bacteria are very small, lack a cell wall, and are among the smallest self-replicating organisms. They are considered "fastidious" bacteria, meaning they have very specific growth requirements and can be difficult to culture in a lab.

A diagram showing the microscopic structure and morphology of Ureaplasma bacteria, highlighting their small size and lack of a cell wall.

Ureaplasma is commonly found in the urinary and genital tracts of both men and women. It's estimated that up to 80% of sexually active adults have Ureaplasma present, though most will not experience any symptoms or health issues related to it.

Transmission of Ureaplasma

Ureaplasma is primarily transmitted through sexual contact. It can be passed from one partner to another during unprotected sex. Ureaplasma can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth.

Infants may acquire Ureaplasma during delivery as they pass through the birth canal. Ureaplasma is found more commonly in premature infants compared to full-term babies.

It's important to note that Ureaplasma is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or sexually transmitted disease (STD). While it can be transmitted sexually, the medical community does not currently classify it as an STI.

Potential Health Effects of Ureaplasma

In many cases, the presence of Ureaplasma does not cause any noticeable symptoms or health problems. However, Ureaplasma has been associated with certain conditions, like inflammation of the urethra (urethritis) and prostate (prostatitis), pelvic inflammation and infertility. 

It's important to note that the health impacts of Ureaplasma are still not fully understood, and the role it plays in various conditions is an area of ongoing research and debate within the medical community.

Vaginal Infections

Ureaplasma infections have been linked to vaginitis, including Bacterial Vaginosis and cervicitis, in women. The presence of Ureaplasma can cause inflammation and irritation in the female reproductive tract, leading to these vaginal infections. Ureaplasma has been isolated from a large proportion (62–97%) of patients with Bacterial Vaginosis (BV). Symptoms of a vaginal infection, caused by Ureaplasma, include:

  • watery vaginal discharge
  • unpleasant vaginal odor

Ureaplasma infections are also a possible cause of urethritis, or inflammation of the urethra,  which cause symptoms similar to a UTI, including: 

  • pain during urination
  • burning sensation, and 
  • discharge. 

However, Ureaplasma infections are distinct from typical UTIs caused by E. coli bacteria. Ureaplasma infections may go undiagnosed or be misdiagnosed as interstitial cystitis, as standard urine cultures often do not detect this bacteria, due to its small size and lack of a cell wall. More specialised testing like PCR is required to identify Ureaplasma.

Reproductive Health Impact 

Ureaplasma has been linked to various reproductive health problems in both men and women, including urethritis, cervicitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and pregnancy complications such as preterm birth.

Ureaplasma has been associated with infertility in both men and women. 

Studies have found that Ureaplasma is detected more often in the semen of infertile men compared to fertile men. Ureaplasma infections have been shown to impair sperm quality and function, potentially contributing to male infertility.

Ureaplasma produces toxic compounds that damage the DNA of sperm. Ureaplasma binds to spermatozoa, affecting its motility and function.  

In women, Ureaplasma infections have been associated with various reproductive tract pathologies that can lead to infertility, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, bacterial vaginosis, and tubal infertility. Ureaplasma infections in the female reproductive tract can also induce pro-inflammatory immune responses that may negatively impact embryo implantation and growth. 

Ureaplasma has been isolated from the affected fallopian tubes in patients with Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), but its occurrence at this site is rare and is usually in association with other known pathogens. 

Besides genital tract infections and infertility, Ureaplasma infections are also associated with poor pregnancy outcome such as spontaneous preterm labour, preterm premature rupture of foetal membranes (PPROM) and clinical inflammation of the amniotic sac.  Their presence in the lower genital tract has been linked to the presence of prostaglandins and cytokines, which are associated with preterm labour and PPROM.


While Ureaplasma is a common bacteria found in the urogenital tract, it is not a condition that is routinely tested for or screened for in most clinical settings. However, Ureaplasma can sometimes be an underlying cause of vaginal inflammation and vaginitis, particularly in cases where other more common causes like bacterial vaginosis (BV), yeast infections (thrush), or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been ruled out. 

When experiencing chronic or recurrent vaginal symptoms like irritation, discharge, or odor, and the typical culprits have been eliminated, testing for and treating Ureaplasma may be beneficial. While the role of Ureaplasma in vaginal health is still an area of active research, healthcare providers should consider it as a potential factor, especially for patients with unexplained or persistent vaginal issues.

When it comes to diagnosing Ureaplasma infections, the use of quantitative PCR (qPCR) testing is critical. Qualitative PCR can simply identify the presence or absence of Ureaplasma, but does not provide information on the bacterial load or concentration. This is an important distinction, as the mere presence of Ureaplasma does not necessarily indicate an active infection that requires treatment.

Ureaplasma is commonly found in the urogenital tracts of many healthy individuals without causing any issues. It's estimated that up to 80% of sexually active adults may test positive for Ureaplasma using qualitative PCR. However, in these cases, the bacterial levels are often low and not clinically significant.

In contrast, quantitative PCR can measure the actual quantity or concentration of Ureaplasma present. This allows healthcare providers to differentiate between high bacterial loads, which are more likely to be associated with symptomatic infections, versus low, asymptomatic carriage. Relying solely on qualitative PCR without quantification can lead to overtreatment, as any positive result may prompt antibiotic therapy, even in cases where the Ureaplasma levels are negligible.

By using qPCR to determine the specific bacterial burden, clinicians can make more informed decisions about whether antibiotic treatment is truly warranted, or if the Ureaplasma levels are within a normal, non-pathogenic range. This helps prevent unnecessary and potentially harmful antibiotic use. Therefore, quantitative PCR is considered the gold standard for accurately diagnosing clinically significant Ureaplasma infections.

If the Ureaplasma infection is believed to have been sexually transmitted, it's important that any sexual partners also be tested and treated to prevent reinfection.

Treatments for Ureaplasma

If a Ureaplasma infection is confirmed, treatment options may include antibiotics. Certain antibiotics, such as azithromycin and doxycycline are commonly used to treat Ureaplasma infections. The specific antibiotic and duration of treatment will depend on the individual case and any potential complications. 

Ureaplasma bacteria are divided into resistant and non-resistant strains. Antibiotics kill non-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic-resistant strains proliferate. 

One key concern around treating Ureaplasma is the growing issue of antibiotic resistance. Ureaplasma species are known to develop resistance to many commonly used antibiotics, making them increasingly difficult to eradicate. Resistance rates for the common antibiotic treatments have been rising, especially with repeated or prolonged courses of these drugs. This is problematic, as it can lead to treatment failures, recurrent infections, and the need for alternative, potentially more toxic antibiotics. The problem is compounded by the fact that Ureaplasma is a common bacteria, present in many asymptomatic individuals. 

Indiscriminate antibiotic use to treat Ureaplasma, even in cases where it may not be clinically significant, can promote the further development and spread of resistant strains. Healthcare providers must exercise caution and carefully weigh the risks and benefits of antibiotic therapy for Ureaplasma, in order to preserve the effectiveness of these vital drugs. This is also why your healthcare provider may advise against treating this bacteria, if there are no symptoms or apparent health risks. 

Ureaplasma is a common bacteria found in the human urinary and genital tracts, and while it often doesn't cause any issues, it has been associated with various health problems, particularly in certain populations. If you have concerns about Ureaplasma or are experiencing symptoms, it's important to consult with a healthcare provider for proper testing and treatment. By understanding Ureaplasma and its potential effects, you can take steps to maintain good reproductive and overall health.


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