Is my UTI actually Ureaplasma?
On a flight home from a trip in the winter of 2022, I felt the dreaded feeling that millions of women know all too well—the burning and discomfort indicating a UTI (urinary tract infection).
Roughly 50–60 percent of women will experience UTIs in their lifetime, and one in three will have at least one symptomatic UTI requiring antibiotic treatment by age 24. Having been part of that statistic, I knew the warning signs: a sudden urge to pee, a burning sensation, feeling like I couldn’t empty my bladder fully, and an uncomfortable pressure. Post-flight, I immediately ran to CVS for a urinary pain reliever and made a virtual GoodRx appointment.
When my symptoms didn’t ease up after a full treatment of antibiotics, I made an in-person appointment with a gynecologist. My urine culture turned up negative for a UTI, and the doctor informed me I actually had both a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis (BV). Although she ignored my residual bladder infection symptoms, I ran back to the pharmacy to pick up the antibiotics, hoping my discomfort would finally subside.
And that’s where my nightmare began. For the next three months, I was in and out of different gynecologist offices, repeating my symptoms and story to whichever doctor was on call that day. I was poked, prodded, and swabbed with the same routine tests every time. I spent more than $150 on various antibiotics. One doctor told me I likely was dealing with interstitial cystitis, also called painful bladder syndrome, and that I would need to book an appointment with a urogynecologist who would perform a cystoscopy to look inside my urethra and bladder. She mentioned that finding an appointment would take months, and many women on Reddit described the procedure as an extremely painful and invasive experience.
I felt like my body was failing me, and no one could give me answers. No one was listening. Unfortunately, this is all too common. Research shows doctors are more likely to underestimate and undertreat women’s pain, and women are more likely to be misdiagnosed or be told their symptoms are merely psychological. (Read our series here on Medical Misogyny).
It felt as though none of the doctors actually cared about my health or wellbeing. I was consistently rushed in and out of exam rooms, undergoing the same routine swabs everytime. On top of feeling off physically, I began to struggle mentally. I lost a sense of ownership over my body. I felt like my health was going to be up in the air forever. Helpless and desperate for answers, I labeled my body broken.
I started doing what most women do in this situation—I turned to researching myself. I learned about every medical diagnosis I thought I could possibly have: pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), interstitial cystitis, vaginismus, endometriosis, vulvodynia. Finally, one day I came across several women on Reddit and TikTok who had similar stories to mine. Many of them talked about a type of infection I’d never heard of before: Ureaplasma.
It’s a type of bacteria that lives in the urinary or genital tract. It’s very common—most people have some amount of ureaplasma and never experience any issues. Yet, for some women, an overgrowth of the bacteria can cause infections like BV and other health problems like urethritis and pelvic pain. There’s little research on it, and many doctors still don’t know much about it or why some women experience overgrowths.
With my newfound knowledge, I made an appointment at a new, holistically-integrated healthcare center. I repeated my symptom saga once again to yet another doctor, and firmly requested to be tested for ureaplasma and mycoplasma, (another bacteria found in the normal flora of the genitourinary system). The doctor agreed to add the swab test to my panel. It was no different than the standard swab for STIs, BV, and yeast infections!
I waited two days for the results. After months of misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, I finally had an answer—my panel returned positive for ureaplasma. The doctor immediately prescribed azithromycin, an antibiotic, and my symptoms disappeared within two weeks.
If you suffer from recurring vaginal infections, urinary tract pain, or phantom UTI symptoms, ask your doctor about ureaplasma and if they can test you for it, or get a detailed diagnosis of what's going on with this at-home lab test. You know your body better than anyone. If you know something is off, speak up and don’t stop until you have answers. Doctors may not always offer you the best option first—I almost paid hundreds of dollars for a cystoscopy before taking advantage of a simple swab. You have to be your own best advocate because no one else is going to stand up for you.
Use these tips when advocating for yourself:
- Bring a written list of your symptoms and questions to the doctor. When I felt rushed, I could only get out half of what I wanted to say and blanked on the most important questions I should’ve asked. Before an appointment, write down everything you want to address with the doctor (on a piece of paper or in your phone) and refer to your list during your time with the doctor to ensure you’ve covered all of your bases.
- Be as specific as possible. When you’re explaining your symptoms, be as detailed as you possibly can. There’s no such thing as TMI at the doctor’s office. Think about exactly when your symptoms began, where you’re specifically experiencing pain or discomfort, how much pain you’re experiencing on a scale from one to ten, any lifestyle changes you’ve gone through recently, and so on.
- Voice your concerns about your care. I often left the doctor’s office feeling no better than when I walked in, and there were so many times I wished I’d spoken up about feeling ignored. Try saying something like, “I really appreciate and respect your time and expertise, but I feel like you aren't listening to me.”
- Don’t worry about over communicating. If you are paying for a service, you should take full advantage of its offerings. Your health is of utmost importance, and you should feel empowered to communicate with an expert. If you’re able to chat with your doctor through a virtual platform, follow up on how you’re feeling and get what you need.
- Find a doctor who truly listens to you. It can be empowering to do your own research online—to an extent. It’s not healthy to start feeling anxious about your findings and begin diagnosing and treating yourself at home without consulting a professional. It’s so important to find a doctor who will patiently and actively listen to your symptoms and take your concerns seriously. If they’re doing their job correctly, they’ll be able to help you.