Gonorrhea at a Glance
- A common sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Often has no symptoms
- Easily treated
- Easily spread with or without symptoms
- Condoms offer good protection
We all want to protect ourselves and each other from infections like gonorrhea. Learning more about gonorrhea is an important first step.
Here are some of the most common questions we hear people ask about gonorrhea. We hope you find the answers helpful, whether you think you may have gonorrhea, have been diagnosed with it, or are just curious about it.
What Is Gonorrhea?
You may have heard of gonorrhea, but many people are not sure what it is. Gonorrhea (gon-o-RHEE-a) is an infection caused by a kind of bacteria that is passed during sexual contact. It can infect the penis, vagina, cervix, anus, urethra, or throat. Sometimes it is called "the clap" or "the drip."
Gonorrhea can be a serious health risk if it is not treated. It affects more than 800,000 women and men in the United States every year.
What Are the Symptoms of Gonorrhea?
Often, gonorrhea has no symptoms. Most people are not aware that they have the infection — especially women.
- Four out of five women with gonorrhea have no gonorrhea symptoms.
- One out of 10 men with gonorrhea has no gonorrhea symptoms.
If you do get gonorrhea symptoms, they may begin in as little as 1–14 days after you got the infection.
When women have symptoms, they commonly experience
- abdominal pain
- bleeding between menstrual periods
- menstrual irregularities
- painful intercourse
- painful urination
- swelling or tenderness of the vulva
- the urge to urinate more than usual
- throwing up
- yellowish or yellow-green vaginal discharge
When men have symptoms, they commonly experience
- pus-like discharge from the penis
- pain or burning feeling while urinating
- more frequent urination than usual
In both women and men, gonorrhea may cause the anus to itch. It can also result in a discharge and painful bowel movements. Itching and soreness of the throat with trouble swallowing may be symptoms of an oral infection. Nine out of 10 oral infections show no symptoms at all.
Gonorrhea symptoms may only appear in the morning and may be mild, especially for men. That's why many people do not realize they have an infection. If you or your partner has any of the symptoms listed above, get checked by a nurse or doctor. This is especially important if you are pregnant.
Complications of Gonorrhea
Gonorrhea is easily treated, but when it is not treated, it can be a serious health threat for both women and men.
During pregnancy, untreated gonorrhea can cause premature labor and stillbirth.
Gonorrhea can be passed from mother to fetus during birth. These infections can lead to blood, joint, and eye infections. To prevent serious eye infections that can be caused by gonorrhea, drops of antibiotics are routinely put into the eyes of newborn babies immediately after delivery. Testing and gonorrhea treatment during a pregnancy reduces the risk of transmission.
In women, if gonorrhea is not treated, it can infect the fallopian tubes, ovaries, or uterus. This is called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Up to 1 out of 5 women with untreated gonorrhea will develop PID. If PID is not treated, it can affect a woman's ability to get pregnant.
Gonorrhea can also make men infertile. It can spread from the urethra to the testicles. There, it can result in a condition called epididymitis. One in five men with an untreated gonorrhea infection develops epididymitis. Acute epididymitis can cause infertility. Symptoms include fever as well as swelling and extreme pain in the scrotum.
Three out of 100 women and men with untreated gonorrhea develop a condition called disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI). DGI can cause arthritis and skin sores. Women are four times more likely than men to develop DGI. Adolescent women have the highest infection rate.
- joint pain
- skin rash or lesions
When diagnosed, DGI can be easily treated. If left untreated, DGI can permanently damage joints.
How Can I Know If I Have Gonorrhea?
A health care provider can do tests to see if you have gonorrhea, whether or not you have gonorrhea symptoms. Your health care provider will test any discharge that comes from the urethra, vagina, or anus. Otherwise, the provider may use a swab or other instrument to take cell samples from the penis, cervix, urethra, anus, or throat. You can also have your urine tested.
Talk with your health care provider about how often you should be tested for gonorrhea and other STDs.
Is There a Treatment for Gonorrhea?
Yes. Gonorrhea is easy to treat. If you have gonorrhea, your health care provider will give you antibiotics.
Pregnant women and teens should not be given certain antibiotics (specifically, ciprofloxazin and ofloxacin). Your health care provider will help you decide which is the best treatment for you.
Both you and your partner must be treated for gonorrhea before you have sex again. That way you can avoid becoming infected again. Some health care providers will give you medicine to take home for your partner(s).
People diagnosed with gonorrhea often have chlamydia as well. Your health care provider may treat you for both at the same time.
If you are treated for gonorrhea, or any other sexually transmitted disease or infection, remember
- Take all the prescribed medicine. Even if the symptoms go away, the infection may still be in your body until treatment is complete.
- Make sure your partner(s) is/are treated at the same time so you don't give gonorrhea to each other again.
- Do not share your medicine with anyone.
- Consult your health care provider if you have symptoms after treatment.
- Get tested again after three months to make sure the infection is gone.
Where Can I Get a Test or Treatment for Gonorrhea?
Staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center, many other clinics, health departments, and private health care providers can diagnose gonorrhea and help you get any treatment you may need.
How Is Gonorrhea Spread?
Gonorrhea is spread by vaginal and anal intercourse and oral sex.
Gonorrhea can also be passed from a woman to her fetus during birth. It is not passed through casual contact.
How Can I Prevent Getting Gonorrhea?
There is a lot you can do to prevent getting gonorrhea.
- Abstain from vaginal and anal intercourse and oral sex.
- If you choose to have vaginal or anal intercourse, use female or latex condoms every time.
- Giving or getting gonorrhea during oral sex is rare, but you can further reduce your risk by using condoms or latex or plastic barriers.
How Can I Prevent Spreading Gonorrhea?
If you have gonorrhea, there are several ways to prevent spreading it to other people. You can
- Inform your sex partner(s) of the infection.
- Have no sex until treatment is complete.
- Be sure your sex partner(s) is/are tested and treated before having sex again.
- Once you are cured and start having sex again, use female or latex condoms every time you have vaginal or anal intercourse.
- Use a condom or dental dam for oral sex.
Since a gonorrhea infection often has no symptoms, women and men who are at risk should ask to be tested regularly. Talk with your health care provider about how often you should be tested.