What is gonorrhea?
a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It’s caused by infection with the
bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
It tends to infect warm, moist areas of the body, including the:
- urethra (the tube that drains
urine from the urinary bladder)
- female reproductive tract (the
fallopian tubes, cervix, and uterus)
passes from person to person through unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex.
People with numerous sexual partners or those who don’t use a condom are at
greatest risk of infection. The best protections against infection are
abstinence, monogamy (sex with only one partner), and proper condom usage.
Behaviors that make a person more likely to engage in unprotected sex also
increase the likelihood of infection. These behaviors include alcohol abuse and
illegal drug abuse, particularly intravenous drug use.
Symptoms of gonorrhea
usually occur within two to 14 days after exposure. However, some people
infected with gonorrhea never develop noticeable symptoms. It’s important to
remember that a person with gonorrhea who doesn’t have symptoms, also called a
nonsymptomatic carrier, is still contagious. A person is more likely to spread
the infection to other partners when they don’t have noticeable symptoms.
Symptoms in men
Men may not
develop noticeable symptoms for several weeks. Some men may never develop
infection begins to show symptoms a week after its transmission. The first
noticeable symptom in men is often a burning or painful sensation during
urination. As it progresses, other symptoms may include:
- greater frequency or urgency of
- a pus-like discharge (or drip)
from the penis (white, yellow, beige, or greenish)
- swelling or redness at the opening
of the penis
- swelling or pain in the testicles
- a persistent sore throat
The infection will stay in the body for a few weeks after the symptoms
have been treated. In rare instances, gonorrhea can continue to cause damage to
the body, specifically the urethra and testicles. Pain may also spread to the
Symptoms in women
don’t develop any overt symptoms of gonorrhea. When women do develop symptoms,
they tend to be mild or similar to other infections, making them more difficult
to identify. Gonorrhea infections can appear much like common vaginal yeast or
- discharge from the vagina (watery,
creamy, or slightly green)
- pain or burning sensation while
- the need to urinate more
- heavier periods or spotting
- sore throat
- pain upon engaging in sexual
- sharp pain in the lower abdomen
Tests for gonorrhea
professionals can diagnose gonorrhea infection in several ways. They can take a
sample of fluid from the symptomatic area with a swab (penis, vagina, rectum,
or throat) and place it on a glass slide. If your doctor suspects a joint or
blood infection, he or she will obtain the sample by drawing blood or inserting
a needle into the symptomatic joint to withdraw fluid. They will then add a stain to the sample and examine
it under a microscope. If cells react to the stain, you most likely have a
gonorrhea infection. This method is relatively quick and easy, but it doesn’t
provide absolutely certainty. This test may also be completed by a lab
A second method
involves taking the same type of sample and placing it on a special dish. This
will be incubated under ideal growth conditions for several days. A colony of
gonorrhea bacteria will grow if gonorrhea is present.
A preliminary result may be ready within 24 hours. A final result will
take up to three days.
Complications of gonorrhea
Women are at
greater risk of long-term complications from untreated infections. Untreated
infection with gonorrhea in women may ascend up the female reproductive tract and
involve the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. This condition is known as pelvic inflammatory disease
can cause severe and chronic pain and damage the female reproductive organs.
PID can be caused by other sexually transmitted diseases as well. Women may
also develop blocking or scarring of the fallopian tubes, which can prevent
future pregnancy or cause ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is when a
fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. Gonorrhea infection may pass to a
newborn infant during delivery.
Men may experience scarring of the urethra. Men may also develop
a painful abscess in the interior of the penis. The infection can cause reduced
fertility or sterility.
When gonorrhea infection spreads to the bloodstream, both
men and women can experience arthritis, heart valve damage, or inflammation of
the lining of the brain or spinal cord. These are rare but serious conditions.
Treatment of gonorrhea
antibiotics can cure most gonorrhea infections. Most states also provide free
diagnosis and treatment at state-sponsored health
At home and over-the-counter
There are no
at-home remedies or over-the-counter medications that will treat an infection
with gonorrhea. If you suspect that you have gonorrhea, you should seek care
from a healthcare professional.
usually treated with an antibiotic injection of Ceftriaxone one time to the
buttocks or a single dose of Azithromycin by mouth. Once on antibiotics, you should feel
relief within days.
requires healthcare professionals to report the infection, usually to the county
public health department. Public health officials will identify, contact, test,
and treat any sexual partners of the affected person to help prevent the spread
of the infection. Health officials will also contact other people these
individuals may have had sexual contact with.
of antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea is a growing challenge. These cases may require more
extensive treatment, with a seven-day course of an oral antibiotic or dual
therapy with two different antibiotics, usually for a total of seven days of therapy.
The antibiotics used for extended therapy are usually given once or twice a
day. Some common antibiotics used include azithromycin and doxycycline.
Scientists are working to develop vaccines to prevent gonorrhea infection.
Prevention of gonorrhea
The safest way
to prevent gonorrhea or other STDs is through abstinence. If you do engage in
sex, always use a condom. It’s important to be open with your sexual partners,
get regular STD testing, and find out if they’ve been tested.
partner is showing signs of a possible infection, avoid any sexual contact with
them. Ask them to seek medical attention to rule out any possible infection
that can be passed on.
You’re at a
higher risk of contracting gonorrhea if you’ve already had it or any other
STDs. You’re also at a higher risk if you have multiple sexual partners or a
What to do if you have gonorrhea
If you think
you may have gonorrhea, you should avoid any sexual
activity. You should also contact your doctor immediately.
doctor’s visit, be prepared to:
- detail your symptoms
- discuss your sexual history
- provide the contact info for
previous sexual partners so that the doctor can contact them anonymously on
If you’re in
contact with your sexual partner(s), let them know they should be tested
placed on antibiotics, it’s important to take the full course of pills to
ensure that your infection is completely treated. Cutting your course of
antibiotics short can make the bacteria more likely to develop resistance to
the antibiotic. You also need to follow up with your doctor one to two weeks
later to make sure that your infection has cleared.
If the results
come back negative and your sexual partner is also clear of any infection, it’s
possible to resume sexual activity.