What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a bacterium. Gonorrhea grows in warm, moist areas of the reproductive tract, including the uterus, cervix, urethra and fallopian tubes. It can also grow in the anus, mouth, eyes and throat.

Gonorrhea is very common: More than 700,000 Americans get new gonorrhea infections each year, with the highest rates found among sexually active teenagers, young adults, and African Americans.

Gonorrhea is transmitted person to person through sexual contact (vaginal, anal or oral sex) with someone who has the disease. It is also transmitted through bodily fluids, so gonorrhea can spread from an untreated mother to her baby during childbirth.

Those who have had the disease and have been treated for it can become infected again through sexual contact with a person infected with gonorrhea.

Symptoms of gonorrhea

Gonorrhea can affect the anus, eyes, mouth, genitals, or throat, and symptoms are varied, depending on which part of the body is infected.

For men, common symptoms include burning pain during urination and a white, green or yellow discharge from the penis that occurs one to 14 days after infection. Some men with gonorrhea may get swollen, painful testicles; other men have no symptoms at all.

The majority of women with gonorrhea have no symptoms; others have mild symptoms that mimic a bladder or vaginal infection. Some women may have a painful or burning sensation during urination, vaginal discharge, or vaginal bleeding between periods.

Females with gonorrhea have an increased risk of developing serious complications from the infection, even if no symptoms are present.

Symptoms of a rectal infection may include anal itching, discharge, pain, bleeding, or painful bowel movements. Sometimes rectal infections cause no symptoms.

Gonorrhea infections in the throat often have no symptoms, but may include a sore throat.

Diagnosis of gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is often diagnosed through a urine test. Occasionally, a swab may be used to collect a sample from a woman’s cervix or a man’s urethra. If a person has had oral and/or anal sex, swab samples may be collected from the throat and/or rectum.

Gonorrhea treatment

Gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics for all partners. It is important to finish all prescribed medications. If symptoms persist, a follow-up meeting with the doctor will be necessary. Drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea are becoming more common.

Individuals with gonorrhea should refrain from having sex until all medications have been taken and symptoms go away.

Other gonorrhea risks & concerns

If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, and impact a woman’s ability to have children.

Untreated gonorrhea can increase a person’s risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. If it is not treated, Gonorrhea can also spread to the joints and cause arthritis.

Pregnant women who have gonorrhea may pass the infection on to the baby as the infant passes through the birth canal, which can lead to serious health problems for the baby. Pregnant women who think they might have gonorrhea should consult their doctor as soon as possible.

If diagnosed with gonorrhea, a person should notify all of their recent sexual partners, so they can receive treatment as well. This will reduce the risk that the sexual partner(s) will develop serious complications from the disease.