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Gonorrhea Testing

What Is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection affecting more than three million people per year, according to Mayo Clinic. Also referred to as “the clap” or “the drip,” gonorrhea is spread by coming into contact with 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 multiply in the urethra. However, the mouth, throat, and anus can also be infected with gonorrhea in both men and women.

Statistics on Gonorrhea

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), gonorrhea is an incredibly common sexually transmitted infection (STD) with an estimated 820,000 new diagnoses occurring each year in the United States alone. Among the 820,000 new cases of gonorrhea, 570,000 cases occur in people ages 15 to 24.In 2015, 395,216 cases of gonorrhea were reported to the CDC. Cases of gonorrhea have increased steadily since 2009. Today, gonorrhea is the second-most reported STD in the United States.

Transmission of Gonorrhea

Although gonorrhea is more common among individuals 15 to 24 years old, anyone having unprotected sex is at risk of gonorrhea. Gonorrhea can be transmitted through oral, anal, and vaginal contact. The CDC recommends sexually active women aged 25 and younger receive a yearly gonorrhea screening. Factors considered to place people at high risk for contracting gonorrhea include:

  • Having a previous case of gonorrhea
  • Past or present STDs
  • Having multiple sexual partners
  • Using condoms incorrectly or not using them at all
  • Current drug use
  • Pregnancy

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

Gonorrhea Symptoms

After transmission of gonorrhea, symptoms begin to appear within 2 to 10 days after the initial exposure for women. Men begin to experience symptoms within 2 to 14 days after infection contact.Symptoms can take up to 30 days to appear, however. Many individuals experience no signs or symptoms of gonorrhea. When no symptoms appear, 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 pain
  • 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. 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 to her baby during vaginal delivery. If a baby contracts gonorrhea, it can lead to blindness, joint infections, 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 Bodily Fluid Sample

Known as a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), the genetic material of gonorrhea bacteria can be found in urine or bodily fluid samples. While a urine or fluid sample can be collected at a doctor’s office, at-home kits are also used to collect samples privately, which are then returned to a lab for testing. To provide a bodily 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 NAAT, a gonorrhea culture is used to test for gonorrhea bacteria. After providing a bodily fluid sample from the suspected area, a substance is added to the sample to promote bacteria growth. If bacteria do not grow, the culture is considered negative. If bacteria grow, however, 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 an effective course of antibiotic treatment, further testing (known as antibiotic sensitivity testing) may be conducted.

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