Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Gonorrhea can be transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal sex.
Gonorrhea infects the mucous membranes of the reproductive system, including the cervix, Fallopian tubes, and the uterus in women, and the urethra in women and men.
It also infects the mucous membranes at the site of contact, including those found in the mouth, throat, eyes and anus. The CDC estimates that there are 820,000 U.S. cases of gonorrhea annually.
How do you contract gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea can be transmitted through any unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sexual intercourse with an infected partner.
Transmission can occur during sexual intercourse even if there is no ejaculation. Gonorrhea can also be spread from a mother to her baby during vaginal childbirth.
Common signs and symptoms of gonorrhea
Gonorrhea does not always show symptoms in men or women. It is possible to be infected and not know it.
Gonorrhea symptoms in men include unusual discharge from the penis, itching, and painful urination. Gonorrhea symptoms in women can be mild or absent.
If present, symptoms in women include painful urination, fever, unusual vaginal discharge between periods, vomiting and stomach pain.
Effects of untreated gonorrhea
Not getting treated for gonorrhea can result in serious health complications. Untreated gonorrhea makes you susceptible to HIV and other STDs.
In men, untreated gonorrhea can result in a painful infection of the testicles, inflammation of the prostate, infertility, and urethral scarring.
In women, untreated gonorrhea might result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to dangerous ectopic (tubal) pregnancy and infertility.
How to cure gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is an easily curable sexually transmitted disease. Antibiotics are available to treat this bacterial STD.
If you test positive for gonorrhea, our certified health specialists will connect you with one of our doctors who will discuss your positive test results with you.
The doctor will recommend what steps you need to take next to alleviate or manage your STD and may prescribe treatment.
Gonorrhea symptoms in women
In women, gonorrhea symptoms are usually undetectable, extremely mild or often confused for other conditions. If left untreated, gonorrhea can spread into the uterus or Fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
PID might lead to infertility and an increased risk of ectopic (or tubal) pregnancy. Consider gonorrhea testing as part of your routine STD testing, especially if you are pregnant or at risk of contracting an STD.
Gonorrhea symptoms in men
About 50 percent of men with gonorrhea do not experience any symptoms at all. If symptoms do present themselves, it is often in the form of painful urination or a yellow or green tinted white discharge from the penis.
Less common symptoms include itching or burning around the urethra. Other symptoms are often mild and unnoticeable.
An untreated gonorrhea infection can lead to serious complications like intense testicular or scrotal pain (epididymitis).
How long do gonorrhea symptoms take to appear?
Although some people do not experience any gonorrhea symptoms, they may appear 10 days after being exposed to the gonorrhea bacterium.
Typically gonorrhea symptoms can be mild or confused with a long-lasting flu. In some cases, symptoms may be severe and lead to serious complications such as PID for women and epididymitis for men.
Gonorrhea and health complications
Some health complications, like pelvic inflammatory disease for women, are not symptomatic of gonorrhea, but are a serious health complication.
You should seek medical attention if you feel sick, have a fever or pelvic pain, or experience pain during sex.
Untreated gonorrhea can lead to Disseminated Gonococcal Infection (DGI)
There are many reasons to treat gonorrhea infection including the risk of DGI. Also known as gonococcal arthritis, DGI is caused by the spread of gonorrhea to the body, including the blood, skin, heart, or joints.
This rare condition occurs in only 1 out of 100 people infected with gonorrhea, but DGI can be deadly. DGI can develop as soon as 2-14 days after you are infected with gonorrhea.
Symptoms usually include chills, fever, joint pain or swelling, painful wrist and heel tendons, skin rash, and symptoms of meningitis (such as headaches, stiff and painful neck, vomiting, confusion and seizures).
Our doctors recommend seeking medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms in order to avoid any serious or deadly complications.
- Silent or no symptoms (50% of the time men do not show signs)
- Yellow-white, or green-white discharge from the penis
- Painful, frequent urination
- Rectal pain, discharge, or bleeding
- Inflamed eye
- Testicular or scrotal pain
- Burning and itching around the opening of the penis
- Sore throat
- Silent or no symptoms
- Unusual, increased bloody yellowish or watery green vaginal discharge
- Painful urination
- Rectal pain, discharge, or bleeding
- Inflamed eye
- Sore throat
- Pain during intercourse
- Lower back pain
- Low stomach aches
- Bleeding between periods
How is gonorrhea transmitted?
Gonorrhea can be transmitted through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. Both men and women are susceptible to this common and often asymptomatic STD caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria.
Ejaculation does not have to occur in order for gonorrhea to be spread. You can contract gonorrhea from sharing sex toys. Gonorrhea can also be spread from a mother to her baby during childbirth.
Is gonorrhea preventable?
Abstaining from sexual intercourse is the best method to prevent getting or spreading gonorrhea. However, if you are sexually active, using latex or polyurethane condoms or dental dams, can help protect you and your partner from gonorrhea.
Being in a long-term monogamous relationship can help reduce your chances of contracting gonorrhea or any other STDs, especially if you have gotten STD testing together.
What happens if gonorrhea is left untreated?
Complications, especially those affecting the reproductive system, in both men and women, can derive from an untreated gonorrhea infection.
Since symptoms are not commonly displayed, screening for gonorrhea if you have had a recent unprotected sexual encounter is highly recommended by our doctors.
Most common untreated gonorrhea complications for men:
- Inflammation of the prostate
- Scarred and narrowed urethra
- Testicular or scrotal pain
Most common untreated gonorrhea complications for women
- Infertility caused by PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease)
- Ectopic (tubal) Pregnancy
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Inflammation of the bladder
Importance of informing your partner you have gonorrhea
Gonorrhea is a very contagious STD and if you tested positive, it is likely that your partner will as well. Telling your partner as soon as you confirm your diagnosis is important.
It is recommended by the CDC that if you test positive for gonorrhea, you should inform anyone you have had sexual intercourse with within 60 days prior to diagnosis.
This will reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others and will allow your sex partner or partners to get treated before developing complications.
To avoid contracting gonorrhea again after treatment, make sure you and your partner have been retested before having intercourse again. Additionally, using condoms when intimately involved helps to prevent transmission.
If you are pregnant, get tested for gonorrhea
Gonorrhea can cause complications like miscarriage, ectopic (tubal) pregnancies, and the transmission of gonorrhea from mother to baby during pregnancy.
According to the CDC, the baby’s contraction of gonorrhea from the mother can lead to blindness, a serious joint infection, and/or a life-threatening blood infection.
If you are pregnant, it is important to get tested for gonorrhea to eliminate any possible infections or dangerous health conditions.
Gonorrhea is a curable STD
After a positive diagnosis for gonorrhea, appropriate and consistent treatment is necessary to successfully kill off the gonorrhea bacteria.
Antibiotics often used to cure gonorrhea include azithromycin, doxycycline, ceftriaxone or cefixime.
The CDC recommends dual therapy (i.e. using two antibiotics) for treating gonorrhea, due to this bacteria’s ability to sometimes become resistant to drugs. Speak to your doctor about what the best option is for you.
Gonorrhea and Chlamydia
It is not unusual for individuals who are infected with gonorrhea to also be infected with chlamydia. This is because chlamydia is transmitted through oral, vaginal and anal sex, just like gonorrhea.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia occur so often together that they are considered “co-existing infections,” meaning that a person can be infected with both simultaneously.
Treating gonorrhea during pregnancy.
A woman with gonorrhea can be treated while pregnant with certain antibiotics. It is important to treat gonorrhea during pregnancy due to the high risk it poses to the fetus.
According to CDC, gonorrhea can harm the baby, causing prenatal pneumonia, conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye), blindness, joint infections, or life-threatening blood infections.
Speak to your healthcare provider about testing for gonorrhea and the treatment options available to you during pregnancy.
Can I get gonorrhea more than once?
Yes, anytime you are exposed to the gonorrhea bacterium, you can contract it. You can get gonorrhea more than once because gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease and re-infections occur often.
After a week of properly taking antibiotics, you should be cured and cleared of the disease, but your sexual partner(s) need to also get and complete treatment to avoid either of you being re-infected.
Failure to do this can result in you contracting the disease multiple times. Having unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person almost always results in re- infection after treatment.