Gonorrhea Symptoms

No one wants to develop gonorrhea symptoms: they can be painful and, if left untreated, cause larger health problems. Thankfully, gonorrhea is as treatable as it is common. With proper testing and antibiotics, gonorrhea can be a short-term hiccup in an otherwise healthy life.

Learn more about your gonorrhea symptoms and what can be done to treat them.

What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD): a common bacterial infection that affects both men and women. Gonorrhea symptoms are most commonly present in the cervix, Fallopian tubes, and uterus in women; it can also affect the urethra of both men and women. When left untreated, gonorrhea can cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) which can lead to infertility and increase risk of ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside of the womb).

How is Gonorrhea Prevented?

Gonorrhea is spread through sexual activity, whether it is vaginal, oral, or anal. As a result, gonorrhea symptoms can develop in multiple parts of the body. This can include the vagina, penis, eyes, throat, and mouth. Gonorrhea can can transmitted even when a man does not ejaculate or when the penis does not fully enter the vagina. The bacteria can be spread simply by touching the infected area with your hand and then touching somewhere else on you or your partner’s body. Semen (cum), pre-ejaculate (pre-cum), and vaginal fluids can all transmit gonorrhea.

The best way to avoid infection is through a variety of safe sex practices. Condoms, dental dams, reducing your number of partners, and even abstinence are all ways of decreasing your risk of exposure. Because those carrying the bacteria frequently show no gonorrhea symptoms, transmission can happen quickly and without either partner being aware. That is why gonorrhea is such a common STD, with the CDC estimating that there are 820,000 U.S. cases of gonorrhea annually.

This is why regular STD testing is so important in preventing infection. While you may feel fine, you could have a sexually transmitted infection that could create problems for you and your sexual partners in the future.

What Do Gonorrhea Symptoms Look Like?

As previously mentioned, people with gonorrhea are frequently asymptomatic, making this STD particularly difficult to self-diagnose. Without regular STD testing, those who are aware of their infection are only those who have started to show some of the more painful or unpleasant gonorrhea symptoms. These symptoms can be alarming, creating a lot of anxiety in those who have developed them.

Of course, gonorrhea doesn’t need to evoke too much stress, so long as you seek testing and treatment quickly. Below are a few of the most frequent gonorrhea symptoms, as seen in both men and women.

Gonorrhea Symptoms in Women

Most Common

  • No symptoms

Less Common

  • Painful urination
  • Bloody, yellowish or watery green vaginal discharge
  • Pain, discharge, or bleeding from the rectum
  • Eye inflammation

Least Common

  • Sore throat
  • Pain during sex
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Lower back pain
  • Low stomach aches
  • Bleeding between menstrual cycles

Gonorrhea Symptoms in Men

Most Common

  • No symptoms
  • Yellow-ish or green-ish discharge from the penis
  • Painful urination
  • Pain, discharge, or bleeding from the rectum
  • Eye inflammation

Less Common

  • Pain in scrotum or testicles
  • Burning and itching around the tip of the penis
  • Sore throat

If you are experiencing any of the gonorrhea symptoms above, you should seek testing and treatment as urgently as possible. While gonorrhea is very treatable, without antibiotics, it can develop serious complications. In women, gonorrhea can cause Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), which can result in ectopic pregnancy and infertility. In men, gonorrhea can cause painful inflammation of the prostate, an infection of the testicles, scarring of the urethra, as well as sterility.

So while it can be intimidating or embarrassing to talk to a doctor about STDs, it is important to make testing a regular part of your sexual health routine. It’s even more important if any of the above gonorrhea symptoms are present. Don’t wait: get tested, get treated, and get back to living a life that is healthy and happy.

What Can I Expect When I Get Tested for Gonorrhea?

While many people imagine STD testing to be a frightening endeavour, getting tested for gonorrhea is actually quite a simple and painless process. Frequently, all that is required is a urine test. You pee in a cup, you go home. Other times, your doctor may request a swab test for more accurate results, where they will apply a cotton swab to your genitals to have tested for the presence of the gonorrhea bacterium, N. gonorrhoeae.

When you are tested, your doctor may recommend that you are also tested for chlamydia at the same time. While not everyone with gonorrhea symptoms will test positive for chlamydia as well, it is not uncommon for them to go hand-in-hand. As a result, it can be easier to test for both at the same time, as to get the more accurate diagnosis.

As a precautionary measure, your doctor may choose to treat your gonorrhea symptoms with antibiotics before you even get your results back. Even if you don’t have gonorrhea, you could still have another type of infection that will require treatment – such as a UTI – and it is often safer to treat the symptoms, regardless of the final test results. Be sure to finish your entire treatment, regardless of your test results. If your doctor prescribed you medication, it is because they felt it was necessary for your health.

What Can I Expect From Gonorrhea Treatment?

For all the social stigma that exists around an STD like gonorrhea, it’s actually quite easy to treat. Like any bacterial infection, whether it is strep throat or a UTI, gonorrhea is treated through a course of antibiotics. Your doctor may prescribe you with the oral medication azithromycin. If your doctor is concerned that your strain of gonorrhea might be resistant to antibiotics, they may pair your oral medication with a shot of ceftriaxone.

These drugs will stop the infection but cannot repair any damage that is caused by their complications. That is why it is better to catch gonorrhea as early as possible, with the best possible result being that you catch it through regular STD testing, before any gonorrhea symptoms even manifest.

If you discover that you have gonorrhea symptoms, or if a test has found you to be positive for the infection, it is important that you notify any affect sexual partners. They will need to be treated for gonorrhea as well, for the sake of their health and the health of anyone else they may with whom they may have sexual contact. While it can be uncomfortable to discuss sexually transmitted infections with your partners, they will be thankful for the honesty in the long-term.

While you and your partner are getting treated for gonorrhea, you should both refrain from sexual activity for a minimum of 7 days. While you may feel healthy enough for sex after just a few days of antibiotics, the absence of gonorrhea symptoms does not guarantee that the infection-causing bacteria has been completely eliminated from your system. Continuing to have sexual contact before you have finished treatment could cause a relapse, in both you and your partner. Just because you’ve had gonorrhea once doesn’t not prevent you from future infections.

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