Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a common bacterial infection that is curable with antibiotics. Some of the more common signs and symptoms include irritation when peeing, pain during sex, and/or unusual discharge from the penis or the vagina. Some people will not have any signs for months.

Symptoms

*Not everyone will experience symptoms

Penis: Thick, yellow or green discharge, swelling or pain in testicles, itchiness.

Anus: Bleeding, pain, or itching, mucus discharge from rectum.

Vulva/Vagina: Bleeding after sex or between periods, pain during intercourse, discharge.

Other:

  • Pain in abdomen or lower back for those with vulvas/vaginas.
  • Throat infection (if gonorrhea infection is in the throat).
  • Redness, itching, or discharge in the eyes (if gonorrhea is in the eyes).
  • Pain while urinating.

Transmission and Prevention

Gonorrhea can be passed on through unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone who has gonorrhea. It can also be transmitted from someone who is pregnant to their baby during childbirth (that is why STI testing is a routine part of prenatal care). It can also be passed on through mutual masturbation or any genital skin-to-skin contact and sharing of sex toys.

There does not need to be penetration or ejaculation for transmission to occur. Using condoms for penetrative sex is an effective way to help prevent the spread of gonorrhea and dental dams or condoms can be used for protection during oral sex.

Treatment

Gonorrhea is treated using a combination of antibiotics: one oral dose and one dose by muscular injection. All partners that have had sexual contact with someone with gonorrhea within 60 days of their diagnosis require testing and treatment (if test is positive). Testing should be repeated 6 months after treatment. If you have gonorrhea, you should also be treated for chlamydia, as co-infection is common.

Even if you’ve had gonorrhea and were treated, you can get it again if you have sex with someone who has it. It’s important that all partners get tested and treated.

Sex should not be resumed until treatment (of all partners) is complete (approximately 7 days after treatment).

If left untreated (possible complications)

If left untreated, gonorrhea can develop into pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) for those of us who have a uterus. About 10–15% of people who can get PID will experience it at least once in their life, most commonly when they are aged 20–24 (young people are more at risk because of their reproductive organs not being fully matured). Up to 40 percent of untreated lower genital tract infections progress to PID.

PID is an infection of a person’s reproductive organs, including the uterus (womb), fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It happens when bacteria travel up from the vagina into the reproductive organs. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are common causes of PID.

The time it takes before an untreated STI develops into PID is different from person to person. Some people may develop signs and symptoms of PID after a few weeks, for others it can take months.

PID is usually diagnosed based on the symptoms a person is feeling, not how long their STI has been untreated.

The most common symptoms of PID are:

  • Pain in the lower abdomen, usually on both sides. The pain may be crampy or a dull constant ache;
  • Pain during sex;
  • Fever and/or chills;
  • Abnormal fluid from the vagina (discharge);
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding (or spotting between periods);
  • Needing to pee more often than normal;
  • Pain with bowel movements or urination;
  • Nausea and/or vomiting;
  • Lower back pain.

PID can cause infertility (not being able to get pregnant), chronic pelvic pain and tubal pregnancies. PID can permanently scar and damage the fallopian tubes, causing blockage of the tubes. About 12 percent of people suffer enough tubal damage from one episode of PID to become infertile. After three episodes of PID, the infertility rate reaches 50 percent. This can also be a concern for someone who doesn’t know they are pregnant because there is a small chance that PID can result in a possible tubal/ectopic pregnancy (when a pregnancy develops in the fallopian tube instead of in the uterus), which requires emergency care.

Routine testing can help us make sure we know if we have chlamydia and get it treated before it causes complications.

Gonorrhea infection during pregnancy may result in complications. That is why STI testing is a routine part of prenatal care. If you are diagnosed with chlamydia early in the pregnancy, it is treated with antibiotics.

Testing

Urine or swab sample.

Updated on 2019-04-10
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