Gonorrhea Symptoms

In most cases, those who contract gonorrhea will show no symptoms whatsoever. And for those who are symptomatic, symptoms may be mild or easily mistakable for something other than an STD.

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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 gonorrhea can be contracted and potentially harmful to anyone, it can be especially serious for women in particular. 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 do I know if I have gonorrhea?

Since gonorrhea symptoms can be mild, delayed, similar to those of other infections, or even absent entirely, it can be difficult to self-diagnose gonorrhea. For these reasons, the only way to know for sure if you have gonorrhea is to take a reliable STD test if you’ve recently had sex with someone who may have been infected or if you start feeling symptomatic. You can find a full list of symptoms for men and women in the table below.

How is gonorrhea contracted?

Gonorrhea is transmitted by way of sexual contact with an infected person’s penis, vagina, anus, or mouth. Ejaculation does not have to occur in order for gonorrhea to spread.

Can you get gonorrhea from kissing?

No, you cannot contract gonorrhea from kissing. Gonorrhea is only passed from one person to another by way of oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Gonorrhea is not spread by way of kissing or casual contact (handshakes, hugs, etc.) nor is it spread by touching surfaces, coughing, sneezing, etc. You cannot contract gonorrhea without some type of sexual contact with an infected person.

Can you get gonorrhea without having sex?

Gonorrhea is spread through sexual contact with an infected individual, and transmission is dependent on neither penetration nor ejactulation. So even if you’re not engaging in sex by definition, risky actions with an infected individual can still cause you to contract gonorrhea. But again, you need not worry about accidentally catching gonorrhea through casual contact or by simply going out in public.

Can anyone contract gonorrhea?

Yes, any sexually active person can contract gonorrhea and those with multiple partners and/or those who do not use protection are at the highest risk. And just because you’ve contracted it once does not make you immune. It is certainly possible, and not at all uncommon, for individuals to contract gonorrhea more than once. For this reason, even those who have been cured of gonorrhea in the past should seek out reliable testing when necessary.

How is gonorrhea prevented?

Gonorrhea is spread through sexual activity including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. If your partner is male, you can still be infected with gonorrhea even if your partner does not ejaculate. Because people carrying the bacteria frequently show no symptoms, the disease can spread quickly and without either partner being aware. That is why safer sex methods are recommended to prevent infection. Using latex condoms and dental dams, reducing your number of partners, being in a mutually monogamous relationship, and even abstinence are all ways to decrease your risk of being exposed to the disease. If you were treated for gonorrhea, make sure your partners are, too. If they are not, they can re-infect you. If you know 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 for gonorrhea, too.

Do condoms protect against gonorrhea?

Using condoms properly does minimize your chances of contracting gonorrhea. However, it will NOT eliminate the risk entirely. Other birth control methods are moot when it comes to preventing the spread of gonorrhea as the disease is spread solely by genital contact. Here’s a quick refresher on how to use condoms effectively.

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. In certain instances, an infected male may notice a white or yellow discharge from the penis and a burning sensation during urination. Women may experience similar burning as well as increased vaginal discharge. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s best to seek medical attention.

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.
If you suspect you have gonorrhea or have the test results to confirm it, it’s important that you notify your sexual partners immediately so they can get checked. Any sexual partners you had in the past 60 days should be tested and treated. In some states, partners can be treated without being tested or seen by a provider.

Is gonorrhea curable?

Yes! With the right antibiotic treatment, gonorrhea can be easily cured. You’ll want to follow the directions carefully, stick to your regimen for the entire duration, and not share medications with anyone. Even if your symptoms have subsided, quitting your medication early could put you and your sexual partners at risk if the infection has not cleared up entirely. And keep in mind that just because you are cured of gonorrhea, does not mean you are immune. You are just as prone to the infection after being cured as you were before.

How long does it take to cure gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea will typically begin to improve within a few days of beginning treatment although in some instances, pelvic pain takes up to two weeks to subside. Even if symptoms are not lingering, however, it’s best to wait at least a week after the conclusion of your treatment before you have sex again.

What happens if gonorrhea goes untreated?

If left untreated, gonorrhea in women can spread to the fallopian tubes and uterus, potentially causing pelvic inflammatory disease. Although typically asymptomatic, pelvic inflammatory disease can cause abdominal pain and potentially cause permanent damage to the reproductive system. In some instances, this can lead to infertility or increase a woman’s chances of an ectopic pregnancy.

In men, untreated gonorrhea rarely causes additional health problems, but in extreme cases, it can cause extreme pain and even infertility.

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.

How do 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.

With Priority STD Testing, simply select the gonorrhea test you need (or a panel option that includes a gonorrhea test) from our online catalog, find the closest testing facility, and stop by at your convenience. Tests take only a few minutes and most people are in and out in under a half hour. In most cases, you’ll have your results in as little as 24-72 hours.

Can I take an at-home gonorrhea test?

While there are at-home testing options for gonorrhea, be warned that administering a test yourself can certainly affect the accuracy of your results. Be wary of at-home options that are not approved by the FDA. Though many brands will claim to be just as accurate as any other option, the truth is you simply don’t know what you’re getting. In addition, in using a self-administered testing kit, directions can sometimes be unclear which can lessen your chances of an accurate reading. The best case when it comes to accurate gonorrhea testing is to find a reputable STD testing service and let the experts handle the process start to finish.

What if I have additional questions?

If you have questions about the gonorrhea testing process, or are wondering if you should get tested, contact one of our Priority STD Testing care counselors. They’ll be able assist you in finding the right tests, understanding your results, and planning for future steps to get you back on the path to wellness.

Medically reviewed by Amy Cyr MD
Reviewed on 12/14/2021

Symptoms in Men and Women

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

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