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Gonorrhea Symptoms And Testing

What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection affecting more than three million people per year according to the Mayo Clinic.  Also referred to as “the clap” or “the drip,” gonorrhea is spread by contracting bodily fluids of an infected individual.  Primarily spread through sexual contact, gonorrhea can also be passed from mother to child during childbirth.  Bacteria known as neisseria gonorrhoeae causes gonorrhea to grow and multiply in mucus membranes.  The bacteria thrive in conditions that are warm and moist making the reproductive system in women vulnerable to gonorrhea.  In men, bacteria multiplies in the urethra.  However, the mouth, throat and anus can also be infected with gonorrhea in both men and women.

Statistics of gonorrhea

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), gonorrhea is a very common sexually transmitted infection with an estimated 820,000 new diagnosis occurring each year in the United States.  Among the 820,000 new cases of gonorrhea, 570,000 cases people ages 15 to 24.  In 2015, 395,216 cases of gonorrhea were reported to the Center for Disease Control.  While gonorrhea has decreased by 74% since the creation of the national gonorrhea control program in 1975 to monitor the infectious disease, cases of gonorrhea have increased steadily since 2009.  Today, gonorrhea is the second most reported disease in the United States.
Frequency of gonorrhea cases by state

Transmission of gonorrhea

Although gonorrhea is more common among individuals 15 to 24 years old, anyone having unprotected sex with an infected individual is at risk of gonorrhea.  Gonorrhea can be transmitted through oral, anal or vaginal contact.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends sexually active women 25 and younger receive a yearly gonorrhea screening.  Individuals considered to be at high-risk for contracting gonorrhea include:

  • Having a previous case of gonorrhea
  • Past or present sexually transmitted infections
  • Having multiple sexual partners
  • Using condoms incorrectly
  • Current drug use
  • Pregnant women

Use our FREE STD Risk Calculator to gauge your risk of getting gonorrhea.

Gonorrhea symptoms

After transmission of gonorrhea, symptoms begin to appear within two to 10 days for women.  Men begin to experience symptoms within two to 14 days after infection contact.  But symptoms can take up to 30 days to appear.  Many individuals experience no signs and symptoms of gonorrhea.  With no symptoms many infected individuals continue to spread gonorrhea to others.  If gonorrhea symptoms are not recognized and treated there is a possibility of long-term health complications.

Gonorrhea Symptoms in women:

  • Lower abdominal painSymptoms of gonorrhea in women and men.
  • Pelvic pain
  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Spotting between periods
  • Whitish or greenish yellow discharge from the vagina
  • Spotting after sexual intercourse
  • Swelling of the vulva
  • Swollen glands in the throat
  • Burning sensation in the throat
  • Red, itchy eyes (conjunctivitis)

Gonorrhea Symptoms in men:

  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Painful or swollen testicles
  • Swollen glands in the throat
  • Burning sensation in the throat
  • Whitish or greenish yellow discharge from the penis

Long-term health complications of Untreated Gonorrhea

When gonorrhea goes unnoticed and untreated, the infection can result in serious and permanent health issues for both men and women.  Untreated women can experience the spread of gonorrhea to the uterus and fallopian tubes causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).  PID symptoms range from mild to severe and can lead to chronic pelvic pain and internal abscesses.  Eventually worsening further, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can lead to permanent damage of the fallopian tubes resulting in infertility and a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy. If a pregnant woman is left untreated, she can pass gonorrhea onto her baby during vaginal delivery.  If a baby contracts gonorrhea it can lead to blindness, joint infection or a life-threatening blood infection.

Untreated gonorrhea in men can result in a condition known as epididymitis.  Epididymitis is a painful condition of the testicles often leading to infertility.  Gonorrhea can also spread to the prostate causing difficult and painful urination because of scarring inside the urethra. Both men and women with untreated gonorrhea are at a higher risk for contracting and transmitting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  Untreated men and women are also at risk of developing disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI), a chronic and life-threatening blood infection.

Gonorrhea testing

Urine or body fluid sample
Known as a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), the genetic material of gonorrhea bacteria can be found in urine or body fluid sample.  While a urine or fluid sample can be collected at a doctor’s office, at-home kits are also used to collect samples privately and return to the lab for testing.  When providing a body fluid sample, the suspected area with gonorrhea is swabbed.  Such areas as the cervix, urethra, anus, throat or eye can be swabbed.

Instead of a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), a gonorrhea culture is used to test for gonorrhea bacteria.  After providing a body fluid sample from the suspected area, a substance is added to promote bacteria growth.  If bacteria does not grow, the culture is found to be negative.  But if bacteria grows, the culture is positive for gonorrhea.  In some cases the bacterial strain of gonorrhea can be antibiotic resistant due to differences in the genetic material of the bacteria.  To determine the course of antibiotic treatment further testing known as antibiotic sensitivity testing may be conducted.

Find a Gonorrhea Testing Facility Now.


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