What is it?
- Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can infect both men and women.
- The most reliable way to avoid transmission of STDs is to abstain from oral, vaginal, and anal sex or to be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner known to be uninfected.
What is gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is an STD that can infect both men and women. It can cause an infection in the genitals (sex organs), rectum (the final part of the large intestine, ending at the anus), and throat. It is a very common infection, especially among young people ages 15-24. Anyone who is sexually active can get gonorrhea. Gonorrhea can cause very serious complications when not treated, but can be cured with the right medication.
How is gonorrhea spread?
You can get gonorrhea by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has gonorrhea. A pregnant woman with gonorrhea can pass the infection to her baby during childbirth.
What are the symptoms of gonorrhea?
Most people who have gonorrhea have no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they may be mild or may not appear for several days after having sex with an infected partner.
Symptoms in men can include:
- A burning sensation when urinating.
- A white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis.
- Painful or swollen testicles (although this is less common).
When a woman has symptoms, they are often mild and can be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection. Women with gonorrhea are at risk of developing serious complications from the infection, even if they do not have any symptoms.
Symptoms in women can include:
- Painful or burning sensation when urinating.
- Increased vaginal discharge.
- Vaginal bleeding between periods.
Men and women can also get infected with gonorrhea in their rectum, either through receptive anal sex or from another infected site (such as the vagina). Symptoms can include:
- Anal itching
- Painful bowel movements
A healthcare provider should be consulted if any of these symptoms are present.
What are the risk factors for gonorrhea?
A risk factor is the chance that something will harm or otherwise affect a person's health. Any sexually active person can get gonorrhea through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
Risk factors include:
- Engaging in unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
- Having sex with new or multiple sex partners.
- Being a man who has sex with men.
- Having human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
- Being sexually active and under 25 years old.
- Having a sexual partner who is infected with gonorrhea. Gonorrhea can increase the risk of spreading other STDs, including HIV.
Have an honest and open talk with your healthcare provider and ask whether you should be tested for gonorrhea or other STDs. If you have any of these risk factors, you should be tested for gonorrhea every year.
How can I reduce my risk of getting gonorrhea?
The only way to avoid gonorrhea is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
If you are sexually active, the following could lower your chances of getting gonorrhea:
- Being in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has tested as negative for STDs, including gonorrhea.
- Using latex condoms correctly every time you have sex.
Are there tests for gonorrhea?
Most of the time, urine can be used to test for gonorrhea. However, swabs may be used to collect samples from the throat and/or rectum if you have had oral and/or anal sex. In some cases, a swab may be used to collect a sample from a man's urethra (urine canal) or a woman's cervix (opening to the womb).
How is gonorrhea treated?
Gonorrhea can be cured with the right treatment. It is important that you take all of the medication prescribed by a healthcare provider to cure your infection. Medication for gonorrhea should not be shared with anyone. Although medication will stop the infection, it will not undo any permanent damage caused by the disease.
It is becoming harder to treat gonorrhea because drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea are increasing. If symptoms continue for more than a few days after receiving treatment, it will be necessary to return to a healthcare provider to be checked again. Repeat infection with gonorrhea is possible. Repeat testing for gonorrhea three months after treatment ends is recommended, even if sex partners are treated.
I was treated for gonorrhea. When can I have sex again?
You should wait seven days after finishing all medication used to treat gonorrhea before having sex. To avoid getting infected with gonorrhea again or spreading gonorrhea, you and your sex partner(s) should avoid having sex until you have each completed treatment. If you have had gonorrhea and were treated in the past, you can still get infected again if you have unprotected sex with a person who has gonorrhea.
Even if you do not have any symptoms, you can still infect your sex partners. Using condoms may help lower this risk but it will not get rid of the risk completely. If you have gonorrhea, you should tell your sex partner(s) and let him or her know so they can get tested and treated, if necessary.
What happens if I don't get treated?
Untreated gonorrhea can cause serious and permanent health problems in both women and men. In women, untreated gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Some of the complications of PID are:
- Formation of scar tissue that blocks fallopian tubes.
- Ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the womb).
- Infertility (inability to get pregnant).
- Long-term pelvic/abdominal pain.
In men, gonorrhea can cause a painful condition in the tubes attached to the testicles. In rare cases, this may cause a man to be sterile, or prevent him from being able to father a child. Untreated chlamydia in both men and women can also increase risk for contracting or spreading HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Rarely, untreated gonorrhea can also spread to your blood or joints. This condition can be life-threatening.
What are the implications of gonorrhea on pregnancy?
Women who are pregnant and infected with gonorrhea can pass the infection to their baby during childbirth. This can cause serious health problems for the baby. If you are pregnant, it is important that you talk to your healthcare provider so that you get the correct examination, testing, and treatment. Treating gonorrhea as soon as possible during pregnancy will make health complications for both mother and baby less likely.
Did You Know? (Gonorrhea)
Content last reviewed on April 2, 2019