Common Signs and Symptoms of Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea Symptoms

What are the symptoms of gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is usually asymptomatic in men and women. Possible genital gonorrhea symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Swelling or redness of the genitals
  • Abnormal discharge
  • Tenderness
  • Frequent urination
  • General discomfort in the affected area

Women infected with gonorrhea rarely notice symptoms at all or mistake them for a urinary tract infection. In addition to the symptoms above, women may also experience:

  • A yellowish vaginal discharge
  • Abdominal and/or pelvic pain
  • Increased vaginal bleeding or discharge between periods
  • Pain during sexual intercourse

Oral and anal gonorrhea are also typically asymptomatic. An oral infection may resemble a sore throat while an anal infection can cause discharge, bleeding, soreness, itching and painful bowel movements.

What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It is also known as ‘the drip’ or ‘the clap’. The CDC estimates that there are 820,000 new gonorrheal infections every year.

Who is at risk of a gonorrhea infection?

Every sexually active person is at risk of gonorrhea, but roughly 70% of infections are among persons between the ages of 15 and 24. Men who have sex with men are at higher risk of infection.

How is gonorrhea transmitted?

Gonorrhea infects mucous membranes and is transmitted through sexual contact with an infected partner. This includes oral and anal sex, both of which can spread the infection from one site to another (genital infection can be passed to a partners throat or anus).

What is the incubation period of gonorrhea?

The incubation period for gonorrhea is two to six days, but it can take up to 30 days for symptoms to appear after initial infection. If you know you have been exposed to gonorrhea, you can take your first test after seven days.

What are the long-term consequences of an untreated infection?

Untreated gonorrhea can spread into the bloodstream and joints of an infected person. In rare cases, gonorrhea can spread to the bloodstream and cause arthritis, heart valve damage, or inflammation of the lining of the brain or spinal cord. This is called a disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI) and can be life threatening if left untreated. Gonorrhea can also cause epididymitis in men, which can lead to infertility. In women, it can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause infertility, internal abscesses and chronic pelvic pain.

How does gonorrhea impact pregnancy and expectant mothers?

Pregnant women infected with gonorrhea are more likely to have a premature delivery or stillbirth. The infection can passed to the baby during childbirth, resulting in blindness, joint infection and potentially life-threatening blood infection. If an infant is infected with gonorrhea from the cervix during delivery, symptoms will typically appear in 2-5 days. Read more about STDs and pregnancy here.

How can I prevent a gonorrhea infection?

Next to abstinence, consistent use of condoms and dental dams is the best way to lower the risk of a gonorrhea infection. Always use a new condom for sex acts in different locations or with new partners. Limiting the number of sexual partners also greatly reduces the risk of infection.

Who should test for gonorrhea?

Every sexually active person should test for gonorrhea after every new partner, following unprotected sex or every 6-12 months. In addition to the genital test, any person practicing oral or anal sex should also receive regular extragenital testing.

How is a gonorrhea test administered?

A genital gonorrhea test uses a urine sample for men and a swab for women. Extragenital (oral and anal) gonorrhea tests use a swab of the affected area.

Is gonorrhea curable?

Gonorrhea is curable with antibiotics if treated early. The antibiotics will relieve symptoms and clear the infection but will not undo or repair any permanent damage caused by the infection. Antibiotic-resistant or super gonorrhea is a developing global concern. Untreated infections spread to new locations on different partners and increase bacterial resistance to the antibiotics normally used to treat infection. The amount of a specific antibiotic required to treat the infection increases as gonorrhea develops resistance, eventually forcing the use of new antibiotics. Gonorrhea is currently resistant to all of the antibiotics that have been used for treatment in the past except for cephalosporins.

How is gonorrhea treated?

Gonorrhea is treated with an injection antibiotic (ceftriaxone) followed by a course of oral antibiotics (azithromycin). Azithromycin helps to prevent the development of antibiotic resistant strains of gonorrhea. If symptoms remain several days after completing treatment, follow up with the prescribing doctor.

Is a gonorrhea reinfection possible?

Reinfection is possible after treatment for anyone who comes into sexual contact with an infected person. It is important to tell your partner if you have an infection so that they can be tested and treated. This will also help protect both parties from reinfection following treatment.

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