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all about gonorrhea

By: Ana Mixon

September 5, 2023

All About Gonorrhea: Symptoms, Treatment, and More

Do you suspect you may have contracted gonorrhea from a sexual partner? Gonorrhea is a relatively common sexually transmitted disease (STD) most prevalent in people aged 15 to 24. It’s treatable when you catch it early and stick to your healthcare provider’s treatment instructions.

Learning all about gonorrhea can help you understand how to detect this STD and the necessary treatment methods to clear it from your system. Leaving gonorrhea untreated for an extended time could lead to complications.

Gonorrhea doesn’t always produce symptoms in infected people. You could test positive for gonorrhea months after exposure and never know you were infected. Therefore, completing a rapid STD test routinely, especially after having sex with a new partner, is an important step in staying informed about your sexual health. 

Understanding Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that occurs when the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium infects the mucous membranes of the reproductive tract. In some cases, this bacterium can also present as a throat infection, leading to an itchy or sore throat that doesn’t go away. Gonorrhea is sometimes called “the clap.” 

This STD commonly spreads through vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected partner. Any contact with the genitals of an infected person could lead this STD to spread. A mother can also pass gonorrhea to her baby during childbirth. 

An average of 1.6 million gonorrhea cases occur in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC. This STD is most prevalent among young people ages 15 to 24, making up about 50% of infected individuals yearly. Still, anyone of any age or sex can contract gonorrhea.  

Many people infected with gonorrhea do not experience symptoms, leading this STD to easily pass from person to person. Men who experience symptoms may notice: 

  • Pain or swelling in one testicle
  • Painful urination
  • Pus-like urethral discharge

Gonorrhea is less likely to cause symptoms in women than in men. Women who experience symptoms may notice: 

  • Painful urination
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods

Even though gonorrhea can spread to anyone who engages in sexual contact with an infected person, understanding the risk factors for the STD can help you prevent contraction. Learning all about gonorrhea is a great first step in proactively avoiding this STD. 

You may be at a higher risk for contracting gonorrhea if:

  • You are younger than 25.
  • You have recently had new or multiple sexual partners.
  • You don’t use condoms or dental dams when having sex. 
  • Your sexual partner has a history of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  • You are a gay or bisexual man.
  • You are a sexually active woman.

If any of the above are true, you should get tested for gonorrhea every year. Completing a 10-panel STD test routinely can alert you to any new STDs you may have overlooked because they present no symptoms. Then, you can start treatment quickly to minimize complications. 

How Gonorrhea Affects the Body 

Catching gonorrhea early, before it spreads to other parts of the body, allows the infected individual to cure it through a round of antibiotics in nearly all cases. Unfortunately, because many infected individuals are asymptomatic, people often allow gonorrhea to stay in the body for months or even years. The infection could spread and worsen during this time, creating complications in both men and women. 

In women, or people assigned female at birth, untreated gonorrhea can spread to other reproductive organs and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This disease is a common result of untreated STDs. It can produce life-threatening complications, including ectopic pregnancies, and cause infertility in some women. It can also lead to long-term pelvic pain. 

When women pass gonorrhea to their babies, the infants can experience eye problems, leading to blindness. Infants may experience complications from gonorrhea even if their mothers only recently contracted the STD. Seeking treatment for gonorrhea as soon as possible can decrease the chances your baby will experience health problems. 

Men, or individuals assigned male at birth, can experience a complication from gonorrhea called epididymitis. This is an inflammation of the coiled tube near the back of the testicle, known as the epididymis. Symptoms of epididymitis may include scrotal pain, fever, and swelling. 

Men may also experience scarring or narrowing of the urethra, a condition called a urethral stricture. Symptoms include blood in the semen, bloody or dark urine, painful urination, and an increased frequency or urgency to urinate. 

Sometimes, men develop an abscess, which is a collection of pus around the urethra, after leaving gonorrhea untreated. A rectal infection can also develop. 

Untreated gonorrhea may also spread to other parts of the body in men and women, leading to liver inflammation, brain damage, or heart valve damage. Symptoms that gonorrhea has spread may include joint pain, fever, swelling, rash, stiffness, and skin sores. 

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, contact a physician and seek same-day STD testing right away. Many of these conditions have a good outlook when patients begin treatment soon after noticing symptoms. 

Even those who successfully treat gonorrhea are at risk of contracting the STD again. Gonorrhea infection does not lead to protective immunity. Reinfection often occurs when infected individuals have sexual contact with partners before achieving complete recovery, infecting those partners who then re-infect the original infected person. As a result, retesting for gonorrhea after completing treatment is a necessary step in ensuring the infection is no longer contagious. 

You can also take steps to prevent gonorrhea transmission. The only definite way to avoid gonorrhea and other STDs is to avoid sexual contact. Aside from this, you should practice safe sex, which includes:

  • Screening for STDs and STIs routinely 
  • Avoiding unprotected sex consistently
  • Having fewer sexual partners
  • Discussing your sexual history with a new partner

These measures can prevent you from contracting gonorrhea and transmitting it to your partner. 

Diagnosis and Treatment for Gonorrhea

If you suspect you have been exposed to gonorrhea or are experiencing symptoms, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider immediately. Your doctor will diagnose gonorrhea through an STD test, which may include a urinalysis and/or a swab of the affected area. They will then send the test to a lab to identify the presence or absence of Neisseria gonorrhoeae in the test sample. 

You may also consider completing a rapid STD test or at-home test kit to test for gonorrhea. You’ll be able to view your results online as soon as the lab processes them. 

Gonorrhea can stay dormant for a period of between one and ten days, so the infection may not immediately show up on an STD test. Retesting can confirm the results. 

Once a healthcare provider confirms that you are positive for gonorrhea, they will likely prescribe an antibiotic to kill the bacteria causing the infection. Because drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea have been prevalent in recent years, the CDC recommends prescribing the antibiotic ceftriaxone as an injection rather than as an oral medication. 

Your healthcare provider would administer this injection in a single dose to ensure you receive the full treatment according to the instructions. Once you receive the injection, your gonorrhea will still be transmissible for a full seven days. Avoid sexual contact during this period. 

When infants are born with gonorrhea, healthcare providers prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection as soon after birth as possible. 

Reach out to any sexual partners you have been with in the last 60 days to alert them to your infection and suggest that they undergo testing as well. You may want to remind them that gonorrhea is often asymptomatic. 

If you continue having symptoms seven days after completing treatment, you may want to complete a test of cure to ensure the treatment was successful. You should also retest for gonorrhea three months after finishing treatment to screen for reinfection. 

Protect Your Sexual Health With Rapid STD Testing

Now that you know all about gonorrhea, you can take the necessary steps to prevent transmission and treat the infection after contracting it. Practicing safe sex can help you avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Testing regularly and seeking treatment quickly can prevent a gonorrhea infection from creating long-term health concerns. 

Stay on top of your sexual health by completing routine STD testing, even if you don’t have symptoms or known exposure. Order a same-day STD test from Rapid STD Testing today to screen for a wide range of sexually transmitted diseases, including gonorrhea. 


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By: Ana Mixon
September 5, 2023

Ana Mixon is an accomplished and knowledgeable medical writer who excels at conveying intricate medical information in a concise and understandable way. With a strong foundation in internal medicine, Ana possesses an in-depth comprehension of cutting-edge research and advancements in the healthcare sector. Her passion lies in making complex medical concepts accessible to a wide range of readers.

With years of experience under her belt, Ana has honed her skills in medical writing to perfection. She consistently produces high-quality content that is both informative and engaging, ensuring that readers can grasp even the most intricate details with ease. Her dedication to the craft is evident in her unwavering commitment to staying abreast of the latest developments in medical writing. Ana actively participates in conferences and workshops, constantly seeking opportunities to enhance her skill set and remain at the forefront of her field.