What Is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), in the world. Some people may also know it as “the clap” or “the drip.”
How Common Is Gonorrhea. . .
. . . in the United States?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gonorrhea is the second-most reported STD in the United States, right behind chlamydia. The CDC estimates 820,000 new cases occur in the U.S. every year. The vast majority of people who catch this STD are between 15 and 24.
Gonorrhea and other common STD cases have increased steadily in recent years. This may be due to a combination of factors. Speculations for why STD rates are increasing include less funding for sexual health programs and STD prevention resources, poor access to affordable health care, antibiotic resistance, less safe sexual practices, and not getting tested.
. . . around the world?
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 78 million people around the globe become infected with this STD every year.
How Is Gonorrhea Transmitted?
Gonorrhea transmission is primarily through sexual contact. However, a mother can also pass the infection to her unborn child during childbirth.
There’s a lot of confusion as to how people can get this STD. Many people, for example, think only vaginal sex can spread this STD. That isn’t true! Vaginal, anal, and oral sex can all spread this infection. Some people also make the mistake of thinking that hormonal birth control (like “the pill”) can prevent STDs. This is also false. The pill can only help prevent pregnancy; it does not protect against infections.
Factors that can increase the risk of catching gonorrhea include:
- A previous case of gonorrhea
- Past or present STDs
- Multiple sexual partners
- Incorrect condom use
- No condom use
- Condom use only during vaginal sex
- Current drug and alcohol abuse
Use our FREE STD Risk Calculator to calculate your risk of getting gonorrhea.
Can I Only Get Gonorrhea in my Genitals?
No, you can get this STD in many places. The bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae causes gonorrhea to grow and multiply in mucus membranes. This means the bacteria thrive in conditions that are warm and moist. This makes the reproductive system in women especially vulnerable. Both men and women can become infected in the urethra, mouth, throat, eyes, and anus.
Who Can Get Gonorrhea?
This STD is more common among younger people, especially those under 24. As such, the CDC recommends sexually active women 25 or younger receive a yearly gonorrhea screening. However, anyone having unsafe sex is at risk of gonorrhea.
What Are Common Gonorrhea Symptoms?
When do symptoms of gonorrhea begin to show?
For women, symptoms begin to appear within 2 to 10 days. Men begin to experience symptoms after 1 to 14 days. Symptoms may take a little longer to appear, though.
What are noticeable gonorrhea symptoms in women?
- Lower abdominal pain
- Pelvic pain
- Painful urination
- Spotting between periods
- Whitish or greenish-yellow discharge from the vagina
- Spotting after sex
- Vulva swelling
- Swollen glands in the throat
- Burning sensation in the throat
- Red, itchy eyes
What are noticeable 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
What Does Gonorrhea Discharge Look Like?
The following gonorrhea discharge pictures, showing infections of both the vagina and penis. The following images are graphic and may be disturbing to some people. Do not attempt a self-diagnosis based on the following images.
I don’t notice any symptoms. This means I don’t have gonorrhea, right?
Wrong. Many people show no signs of gonorrhea. It is incredibly common for women especially to not show any symptoms. This means you could have gonorrhea and may not even know it based on symptoms alone!
What Are the Dangers of Untreated STDs?
Without knowing their symptoms, infected people can spread their STD to others without knowing it. Gonorrhea isn’t just an inconvenient STD. If it isn’t treated, it could lead to nasty, long-term health problems.
What Happens If I Don’t Treat Gonorrhea?
Untreated infections can cause serious and permanent health issues for both men and women. Those with untreated gonorrhea are also at a higher risk of contracting and transmitting HIV.
What are the consequences for untreated women?
It is not uncommon for women to become infected with both chlamydia and gonorrhea. Like gonorrhea, chlamydia can also appear symptomless and cause long-term problems if not treated.
Gonorrhea can also spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes. If this happens, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID symptoms range from mild to severe, depending on the individual. PID can mean chronic (long-term) pelvic pain, internal abscesses, and permanent damage of the fallopian tubes. The end result can be infertility.
Besides infertility, PID can mean a higher risk of dangerous ectopic pregnancies. This type of pregnancy is where the fetus grows outside the uterus. This pregnancy can never deliver a living baby, and it can have fatal consequences for the mother.
What are the consequences for untreated pregnant women and their babies?
An untreated pregnant woman can pass gonorrhea to her baby during vaginal delivery. What happens to a baby born with this STD? It can mean blindness, joint infections, or even potentially fatal blood infections.
What are the consequences for untreated men?
Untreated gonorrhea in men can result in a condition known as epididymitis. Epididymitis is a painful condition of the testicles that may lead to infertility. Gonorrhea can also spread to the prostate. This can cause difficult and painful urination because of scarring inside the urethra.
Is Gonorrhea Curable?
In most cases, yes. Simple doses of antibiotics often are effective in treating gonorrhea.
However, there is growing concern about the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea. Experts partly attribute this resistance to health officials inappropriately giving out antibiotics. This can happen for a number of reasons.
One common way is for a doctor to make a diagnosis based on symptoms alone. The problem here is that some gonorrhea signs can look like symptoms of other disease. So, a doctor can easily misdiagnose someone with gonorrhea, and give them antibiotics specifically for this STD when the patient actually has something else. A lab test is the only way to know with 100% certainty if you have gonorrhea or not.
Not fully completing a round of antibiotics can also lead to antibiotic resistance. Don’t think that you can ignore certain parts of your doctor’s advice. Always follow the treatment directions your doctor gives you exactly. They’re the experts, and they just want to help you feel better.
I’ve Had Gonorrhea Once. Can I Get It Again?
Yes. Having this STD once does not protect you or a partner from getting it again in the future.
How Does Gonorrhea Testing Work?
Gonorrhea testing often involves urine. However, swabs taken from the rectum and mouth are also common means of collecting samples. There are different ways to test these samples. One such way is through a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), a newer form of testing. It can find traces of gonorrhea bacteria in urine or other bodily fluid samples.
How Are Samples Collected?
Doctors can collect samples in their offices. They can take a swab from areas like the cervix, urethra, anus, throat, or eye. You can also pee into a container that the doctor or nurse provides you.
At-home tests are also available. They allow people to privately collect samples that can detect this STD. Once you collect your samples, you send them to a designated lab for testing. With this type of test, you must always carefully follow the instructions, or you risk not properly collecting a sample. This can mean your test won’t be accurate. When you select an at-home kit, check to see what it is exactly that the kit tests for and how.
Where Can I Find a Gonorrhea Testing Facility Near Me?
Fortunately, most places that offer STD screenings can test for this disease.
- CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- HIV – Human Immunodeficiency Virus
- PID – Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
- STI – Sexually Transmitted Infection
- STD – Sexually Transmitted Disease
- WHO – World Health Organization
SourcesCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Gonorrhea – CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed Version). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea-detailed.htm CDC. New CDC analysis shows steep and sustained increases in STDs in recent years. [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2018/press-release-2018-std-prevention-conference.html Carroll, L. (2018, August 28). STDs continue rapid rise in U.S., setting new record, CDC says. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/health/sexual-health/stds-continue-rapid-rise-u-s-setting-new-record-cdc-n904311 Howard, J. (2018, August 28). Rates of three STDs in US reach record high, CDC says. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/28/health/std-rates-united-states-2018-bn/index.html World Health Organization (WHO). Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea on the rise, new drugs needed. [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/07-07-2017-antibiotic-resistant-gonorrhoea-on-the-rise-new-drugs-needed Moran J. S. (2007). Gonorrhoea. BMJ clinical evidence, 2007, 1604. Walker, C. K., & Sweet, R. L. (2011). Gonorrhea infection in women: prevalence, effects, screening, and management. International journal of women’s health, 3, 197-206.
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