I Had a UTI for Years—Here's Why My Doctor Didn't Find It

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New York Rep

A few months ago, I found myself at the gynecologist’s office with a maddening, exhausting complaint. I knew that something was wrong, I told the receptionist when I made the appointment—but I didn’t know what, and I couldn’t say how long I’d felt that way. It wasn’t like I was in excruciating pain; I had suffered enough UTIs to recognize that stabbing urgency, and this felt different. What was going on in my body wasn’t sharp or stabbing, not itchy or even noticeable to a partner. I just felt slightly off. I was experiencing something subtle but ever present, the mildest burning or tingling sensation, so that I was constantly, if only barely, aware of the area down there. When asked how long these symptoms had persisted, I honestly—if a little embarrassedly—replied that it had been years. I couldn’t remember a time when my reproductive system felt normal.

I’ve spent my adult life dutifully enduring regular exams and pap smears. STI tests always came back negative, and when I was occasionally diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection, my doctor would suggest that my minor malady was the cost of having sex/wearing a bathing suit/having female reproductive organs; they would write me a onetime prescription and send me on my way. The whole time, however, I couldn’t shake that something wasn’t right with my reproductive health. That barely present tingling sensation lingered through aggressive campaigns of Monostat and cranberry juice, herbal teas and garlic suppositories. I scoured WebMD late into the night, diagnosing myself with obscure ailments and then remembered that it didn’t matter: Doctors had already determined that I was “fine.”

So when I recently recounted my subtle, strange symptoms to a nurse practitioner, I didn’t get my hopes up. I assumed that she would tell me a permanent tingling sensation was normal, or assume I was being hyperbolic. Instead, she believed me. Furthermore, she told me that my symptoms sounded like those of a bacterial infection called Ureaplasma—something that, in spite of chronic googling and endless clinic visits, I’d never even heard of. A week later, when my test results for the infection came back positive, I knew I had to find out more: How common was this illness? And in over five years of regular gynecologist visits, why hadn’t anyone tested me before?

For the truth on this little-known—but all-too-common—infection, I turned to Adeeti Gupta, a New York–based obstetrician and gynecologist and the founder of NYC’s first walk-in gynecological clinic. Keep scrolling for all the need-to-know details on this shockingly common bacteria.

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