Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can infect both men and women. It can cause infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat. It is a very common infection, especially among young people ages 15-24 years.
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
How is gonorrhea spread?
You can get gonorrhea by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has gonorrhea. A pregnant woman with gonorrhea can give the infection to her baby during childbirth.
How can I reduce my risk of getting gonorrhea?
The only way to avoid STDs is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
If you are sexually active, you can do the following things to lower your chances of getting gonorrhea:
- Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and has negative STD test results;
- Using latex condoms the right way every time you have sex.
Am I at risk for gonorrhea?
Any sexually active person can get gonorrhea through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
If you are sexually active, have an honest and open talk with your health care provider and ask whether you should be tested for gonorrhea or other STDs. If you are a sexually active man who is gay, bisexual, or who has sex with men, you should be tested for gonorrhea every year.
If you are a sexually active women younger than 25 years or an older women with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has a sexually transmitted infection, you should be tested for gonorrhea every year.
I’m pregnant. How does gonorrhea affect my baby?
If you are pregnant and have gonorrhea, you can give the infection to your baby during delivery. This can cause serious health problems for your baby.
If you are pregnant, it is important that you talk to your health care provider so that you get the correct examination, testing, and treatment, as necessary. Treating gonorrhea as soon as possible will make health complications for your baby less likely.
How will my doctor know if I have gonorrhea?
Most of the time, urine can be used to test for gonorrhea. However, if you have had oral and/or anal sex, swabs may be used to collect samples from your throat and/or rectum.
In some cases, a swab may be used to collect a sample from a man’s urethra (urine canal) or a woman’s cervix (opening to the womb).
Can gonorrhea be cured?
Yes, gonorrhea can be cured with the right treatment. It is important that you take all of the medication your doctor prescribes to cure your infection. Medication for gonorrhea should not be shared with anyone. Although medication will stop the infection, it will not undo any permanent damage caused by the disease.
It is becoming harder to treat some gonorrhea, as drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea are increasing. If your symptoms continue for more than a few days after receiving treatment, you should return to a health care provider to be checked again.
I was treated for gonorrhea. When can I have sex again?
You should wait seven days after finishing all medications before having sex. To avoid getting infected with gonorrhea again or spreading gonorrhea to your partner(s), you and your sex partner(s) should avoid having sex until you have each completed treatment.
If you’ve had gonorrhea and took medicine in the past, you can still get infected again if you have unprotected sex with a person who has gonorrhea.
What happens if I don’t get treated?
Untreated gonorrhea can cause serious and permanent health problems in both women and men.
In women, untreated gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Some of the complications of PID are
- Formation of scar tissue that blocks fallopian tubesExternal Web Site Icon;
- Ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the wombExternal Web Site Icon);
- InfertilityExternal Web Site Icon (inability to get pregnant);
- Long-term pelvic/abdominal pain.
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.