Gonorrhea: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Written By: Dr. Zofia Gordon

Dr. Zofia Gordon is a specialist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Medcare Women & Children Hospital. She completed her MD in Obstetrics and Gynaecology from Medical University of Lodz, Poland and a Speciality from Polish Mother's Memorial Research Institute Lodz, Poland.

Updated On:May 23, 2024

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What is Gonorrhea? 

Both men and women can contract gonorrhea, an infection brought on by a bacterium that is spread through sexual activity. Most frequently, gonorrhea affects the throat, urethra, or rectum. Gonorrhea can also infect the cervix in females. Gonorrhea is spread through vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse. But after birthing, infants of infected moms can contract the disease. 

Causes of Gonorrhea

When the gonorrhea-causing bacteria (N. gonorrhoeae) enters your body through sexual fluids, such as semen or vaginal fluid—often through unprotected sex—you get infected. Your mouth, vagina, penis, or anus are all possible entry points for the germs. To transfer the bacterium, neither you nor your partner need to ejaculate. Sharing sex accessories that haven't been cleaned or wrapped with a fresh condom can potentially spread gonorrhea.

Symptoms of Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea infection frequently has no symptoms. Yet, while symptoms can occur everywhere in your body, they frequently manifest in the genital tract.

Men who have contracted gonorrhea may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Painful urination
  • A pus-like discharge coming from the penis's tip
  • One testicle may be painful or swollen

Women who have gonorrhea may have the following signs and symptoms:

  • Increased vulvar leaking
  • Painful urination
  • Bleeding from the cervix after sex and between periods
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain

Symptoms of gonorrhea in all genders

All genders are susceptible to developing gonorrhea infections in the throat (caused by oral sex on the anus or genitalia) or rectum (through anal sex). Infections of this nature are less frequent than gonorrhea that affects the genitals.

Some signs could be:

  • In the throat: 
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Itchiness
  • Pain in the throat

In the anus: 

  • Scratching
  • Vomiting
  • Painful bowel movements

When to see a doctor for Gonorrhea? 

If you experience any unsettling symptoms or signs, such as a burning feeling when you urinate or a pus-like discharge from your penis, vagina, or rectum, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

If your spouse has been told they have gonorrhea, you should also schedule a visit with your physician. It's possible that you won't have any symptoms or indicators that would make you want to consult a doctor. But, even after your spouse has received gonorrhea therapy, if you don't get treatment, you could re-infect them.
 

Gonorrhea Risk Factors 

Sexual contact with gonorrhea-infected individuals is one of the main risk factors for the disease. Other factors include

  • Unsafe sex, 
  • Sexual activity with more than one partner, 
  • A history of Sexually Transmitted Blood Borne Infections, 
  • And being born to a mother who was infected with gonorrhea 

Gonorrhea Complications 

You are more likely to have long-term gonorrhea-related issues if you are a female. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are two STIs that can spread into the reproductive system and harm the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries if left untreated. This may result in pelvic inflammatory disorder (PID). PID can harm the reproductive organs and result in excruciating, ongoing pain.

Another potential problem is fallopian tube blockage or scarring, which can:

increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus
transmitting gonorrhea to a newborn child

If you are a male, gonorrhea, if left untreated, can result in: 

  • Scarring of the urethra and an uncomfortable abscess in the penis can both impact fertility
  • Inflammation of the semen-carrying tubes close to your testicles is known as epididymitis.
  • Untreated infections can also get into your bloodstream, where they can lead to uncommon but significant problems, such as arthritis and heart valve damage.

Gonorrhea Diagnosis

There are several methods a medical expert can diagnose gonorrhea. These include the following: 

  • Urine test
  • Fluid sample for testing (a medical expert could swab your throat, rectum, penis, or vagina to collect the fluid) 
  • Blood test 

It may take up to a few days to have your results. 

Gonorrhea Treatment 

In most cases, gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics. The most common form of treatment is an antibiotic injection (usually in the buttocks or thigh). If you'd prefer, you can occasionally receive an antibiotic tablet rather than an injection. 

If you have any gonorrhea symptoms, they will often go away in a few days, however any pelvic or testicular pain may take up to two weeks to entirely go away. At the time of your subsequent period, bleeding in between periods or during heavy periods should stop. Following treatment, it is typically advised that you go to a follow-up appointment so that another test can be done to determine whether you are infection-free. To avoid reinfection or infecting someone else, you should postpone having intercourse until you and your partner have received treatment and the all-clear.

Home remedies and over-the-counter medications cannot be used to treat gonorrhea. See your doctor or nurse if you believe you have been re-infected or if your symptoms do not subside following treatment. In these cases, you might require additional testing or a second round of treatment.

Gonorrhea Prevention 

Abstinence is the most secure method of preventing gonorrhea and other STIs. Of course, using a barrier technique, such as condom, each time you engage in oral, anal, or vaginal sex will also help reduce your chance of getting numerous STIs. Another critical action to stop the spread of STIs is being honest with potential partners. So, it's a good idea to inquire about STI testing and status with your present partner(s) and to ensure that you are routinely tested as well.

References 

Hethcote, H. W., & Yorke, J. A. (2014). Gonorrhea transmission dynamics and control (Vol. 56). Springer.
Morgan, M. K., & Decker, C. F. (2016). Gonorrhea. Disease-a-Month, 62(8), 260-268. 
Potterat, J. J., Rothenberg, R. B., Woodhouse, D. E., Muth, J. B., Pratts, C. I., & Fogle, J. S. (1985). Gonorrhea as a social disease. Sexually transmitted diseases, 25-32.
Yorke, J. A., Hethcote, H. W., & Nold, A. (1978). Dynamics and control of the transmission of gonorrhea. Sexually transmitted diseases, 51-56.

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