Gonorrhea Symptoms

Gonorrhea usually does not cause any symptoms. If it does, they may be mild or mistaken for something other than an STD. Because of this, screening is recommended and is often the only way to find the infection.

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What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) and is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a bacterium. Almost one million new infections occur every year, most in young  people. While it affects both sexes, it can be particularly serious for women: Left untreated, gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to infertility and increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the womb). Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that all sexually active women ages 14 – 24 be screened yearly. Women aged 25 and older should be screened if they have new or multiple sexual partners. 

Untreated gonorrhea can cause complications for men, too. Epididymitis (infection near the testicle) can cause pain, fever, swelling of the testicle, and rarely infertility. In both men and women the infection can spread to the bloodstream, which can be life-threatening.

How is Gonorrhea Prevented?

Gonorrhea is spread through sexual activity, including vaginal, oral, and anal sex. It can be transmitted even when a man does not ejaculate. Because people who carry the bacteria frequently show no gonorrhea symptoms, the disease can spread quickly and without either partner being aware. 

The best way to avoid infection is through a variety of safer sex practices. Using latex condoms and dental dams, reducing your number of partners, being in a mutually monogamous relationship, and even abstinence are all ways of decreasing your risk of exposure. 

If you were treated for gonorrhea, make sure your partners are, too. If they are not, they can re-infect you.

If you are aware that your partner has gonorrhea, avoid sexual contact with them until they are finished with their prescribed antibiotics and their symptoms are gone. You should be tested and treated, too.

What do Gonorrhea Symptoms Look Like?

Most of the time, people who have gonorrhea don’t have any symptoms. Because of this, people may not know they have it and can unknowingly spread the disease to their sexual partners. Gonorrhea can cause damage to the reproductive system, even if someone doesn’t have any symptoms. This is why it is important to get tested on a regular basis.

When people do have symptoms, they are different for men and women are are listed below. If you have any of the symptoms below, seek medical care.

What Can I Expect When I Get Tested for Gonorrhea?

Getting tested for gonorrhea involves a simple urine test, which looks for the presence of bacteria. 

When you are tested, your doctor may recommend that you also get tested for chlamydia at the same time.  Chlamydia is another STD, also caused by a bacteria, and it spreads between people the same way gonorrhea does. It is not uncommon for people infected with one to also be infected with the other. If your test shows that you are infected with gonorrhea, you should be tested for other STDs including chlamydia, syphilis, and HIV.

What Can I Expect From Gonorrhea Treatment?

Gonorrhea is treated with a course of antibiotics. Because gonorrhea has developed resistance to some antibiotics, treatment of most gonorrhea entails an injection of one antibiotic, usually ceftriaxone, plus a single dose of azithromycin, an oral antibiotic. These drugs will stop the infection but cannot repair any damage caused by its complications, like PID. That is why it is better to catch gonorrhea as early as possible, through regular STD testing, before the infection can cause any damage.

It is important that you avoid sexual contact for 7 days after you receive your treatment and until any symptoms resolve. To avoid getting re-infected, you should abstain from sexual activity until your partner is adequately treated, too.

It is important that you notify your sexual partners if you suspect you have gonorrhea or have been diagnosed with it. Any sexual partners you had in the past 60 days should be tested and treated. If you have not been sexually active in the past 60 days, then your last sexual partner should be tested and treated. In some states, partners can be treated without being tested or seen by a provider.

How Will Gonorrhea Affect My Pregnancy?

Gonorrhea can be spread from a mother to her baby during delivery, causing infection in many areas, including the eyes (which can cause blindness), scalp, brain, and bloodstream. It also increases the chances of an early birth. It is recommended that pregnant women with risk factors for gonorrhea be tested, even if they don’t have symptoms. Pregnant women who have gonorrhea can prevent spreading the disease to their babies by getting treated. If you do get treated for gonorrhea during your pregnancy, your doctor will want to retest you after your antibiotics are done, to make sure the infection is gone.

Sources: CDCCDC-2Mayo ClinicACOG.orgUS Preventative Task Force

Medically reviewed by Amy Cyr, MD
Reviewed on October 11, 2019

Symptoms in Men and Women

Gonorrhea Symptoms in Women
  • No noticeable symptoms
Gonorrhea Symptoms in Men
  • No noticeable symptoms

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