What is gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is an infection spread through sexual contact. In men, it most often infects the Reference urethra Opens New Window. In women, it usually infects the urethra, Reference cervix Opens New Window, or both. It also can infect the rectum, anus, throat, and pelvic organs. In rare cases, it can infect the eyes.
Gonorrhea does not cause problems if you treat it right away. But if it's left untreated, it can lead to serious problems.
For a woman, untreated gonorrhea can move into the Reference uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window. This can cause painful scar tissue and inflammation, known as Reference pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) Opens New Window. PID can cause Reference infertility Opens New Window or Reference ectopic pregnancy Opens New Window.
Sometimes gonorrhea is called the clap, drip, or GC.
What causes gonorrhea?
A certain kind of bacteria causes gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection, or STI. This means it can spread from one partner to another during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
A woman who is pregnant can pass the infection to her newborn during delivery.
What are the symptoms?
Many people have no symptoms, so they can pass gonorrhea to their sex partners without knowing it.
If there are symptoms, they may include:
- Pain when you urinate.
- Abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina.
Gonorrhea infection in the throat also usually does not cause symptoms.
Symptoms in men usually are easier to notice than symptoms in women. But some men have mild or no symptoms.
In women, the early symptoms may be so mild that they are mistaken for a Reference bladder infection Opens New Window or a vaginal infection. When an untreated infection moves into a woman's pelvic organs, symptoms can include lower belly pain, pain during sex, vaginal bleeding, and a fever.
The time from exposure to gonorrhea until symptoms begin usually is 2 to 5 days. But it may take as long as 30 days before symptoms start.
You can spread gonorrhea even if you don't have symptoms. You are contagious until you have been treated.
How is gonorrhea diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you questions about your past health and your sexual history, such as how many partners you have. Your doctor may also do a physical exam to look for signs of infection.
Urine or fluid from the infected area will be tested for gonorrhea. You may also be tested for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at the same time.
As soon as you find out you have gonorrhea, be sure to let your sex partners know. Experts recommend that you notify everyone you've had sex with in the past 60 days. If you have not had sex in the past 60 days, contact the last person you had sex with.
How is it treated?
Antibiotics are used to treat gonorrhea. It's important to take all of the medicine as directed. Otherwise the medicine may not work. Both sex partners need treatment to keep from passing the infection back and forth.
Getting treatment as soon as possible helps prevent the spread of the infection and lowers your risk for other problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease.
Many people who have gonorrhea also have Reference chlamydia Opens New Window, another STI. If you have gonorrhea and chlamydia, you will get medicine that treats both infections.
Avoid all sexual contact while you are being treated for an STI. If your treatment is a single dose of medicine, you should not have any sexual contact for 7 days after treatment so the medicine will have time to work.
Having a gonorrhea infection that was cured does not protect you from getting it again. If you are treated and your sex partner is not, you probably will get it again.
Finding out that you have an STI may make you feel bad about yourself or about sex. Counseling or a support group may help you feel better.
How can you prevent gonorrhea?
It's easier to prevent an STI like gonorrhea than it is to treat it.
- Use a condom every time you have sex. Latex and polyurethane condoms keep out the viruses and bacteria that cause STIs.
- Don't have more than one sex partner at a time. The safest sex is with one partner who has sex only with you. Every time you add a new sex partner, you are being exposed to all of the diseases that all of that person's partners may have.
- Be responsible. Don't have sex if you have symptoms of an infection or if you are being treated for an STI.
- Wait to have sex with a new partner until both of you have been tested for STIs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about gonorrhea:
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference August 20, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Reference Peter Shalit, MD, PhD - Internal Medicine