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Definition

Gonorrhea is a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI). It can cause serious health problems. You will need to seek medical treatment.

Causes

The infection is caused by a bacteria. It spreads during oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected partner. Someone with gonorrhea can also pass the infection to a baby during childbirth.

Risk Factors

Gonorrhea is most common among sexually active young adults. The risk of STIs is higher in those with:

  • An STI or had one in the past
  • A new sex partner
  • More than one sex partner
  • A sex partner with an STI
  • Improper use of a condom

Symptoms

Most people who have gonorrhea do not have symptoms. If they do happen, they may appear 1 to 14 days after exposure. Some may not have symptoms for a month.

Genital problems may include:

  • Discharge from the penis
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge and/or unusual vaginal bleeding
  • Belly pain
  • Burning while urinating
  • Itching in the urethra

Rectal symptoms may be:

  • Itching
  • Soreness
  • Bleeding
  • Painful stools

Female Reproductive System Organs
Female Reproductive Organs

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Untreated gonorrhea can cause severe infections in:

  • Joints
  • Brain
  • Eyes
  • Heart

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may suspect an STI based on symptoms. The testing may also be done as a screening test for those at high risk. A sample of fluids may be taken from one of the following:

  • Vagina or penis
  • Throat
  • Rectum
  • Urine

Treatment

Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. All sex partners should be tested and treated. Reinfection is possible and fairly common. It is important to take all antibiotics as recommended. Many forms of gonorrhea are resistant to common antibiotics. Other antibiotics will be tried to treat the infection. Testing will help to make sure treatment was successful and the infection has been stopped.

Untreated gonorrhea can lead to damage of pelvic organs. This can cause problems with fertility, pregnancy, and disrupt urine flow. It can also cause painful sore and scarring.

Prevention

To lower your chances of getting gonorrhea:

  • Abstain from sex.
  • Have sex with only one partner.
  • Use a latex condom during sex if you or partner are having sex with more than 1 person.
RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://www.cdc.gov

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
http://www.niaid.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

Sex Information and Education Council of Canada
http://www.sieccan.org

REFERENCES:

Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/arg/default.htm. Accessed December 31, 2020.

Gonococcal cervicitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113822/Gonococcal-cervicitis. Accessed December 31, 2020.

Gonococcal urethritis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115615/Gonococcal-urethritis. Accessed December 31, 2020.

Gonorrhea. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/. Accessed December 31, 2020.

Screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2014 Dec 16;161(12):902-10.

Workowski KA, Berman S, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR. 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.

Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG  Last Updated: 12/31/2020