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Gonorrhea​What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a bacterial STI that can cause infection in the genitals, rectum, and throat. In rare cases, once infected, gonorrhea can spread through the blood to your joints, skin, heart, or brain. Anyone who is sexually active can get infected with gonorrhea. It is especially common among young people 15 – 24 years of age.  Infection can  lead to serious reproductive health problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility. Having a gonorrhea infection may increase one's risk of becoming infected with HIV. Gonorrhea can also cause infections in newborn babies through exposure during vaginal delivery. Tests and effective treatments are available.

If you are sexually active, have an honest and open conversation with your health care provider. Ask them if you should get tested for gonorrhea or other STIs. If you are a sexually active gay or bisexual cisgender man, you should get tested for gonorrhea at least once per year. You should also  be tested during pregnancy at your first prenatal visit and again at third trimester if you are less than 25 years of age or have risk  factors such as a new or multiple sexual partners, or you or your partner are diagnosed with another STI.

If you are a sexually active cisgender woman, you should get tested for gonorrhea every year if you are:

  • Younger than 25 years of age

  • 25 years of age and older with risk factors, such as new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has a sexually transmitted infection

How It Spreads

You can get gonorrhea by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has gonorrhea. You can still get gonorrhea even if your sex partner does not ejaculate (cum). A pregnant person with gonorrhea can give the infection to their baby during childbirth.

Signs and symptoms

Gonorrhea often has no symptoms, but it can cause serious health problems, even without symptoms. Many people with gonorrhea, especially people with a vagina, do not have any symptoms. Even when a person with a vagina has symptoms, they are often mild and can be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection. 

Symptoms in people with a vagina can include:

  • Painful or burning sensation when peeing

  • Increased or abnormal vaginal discharge

  • Vaginal bleeding between periods

​People with penises who have symptoms may experience:

  • A burning sensation when peeing

  • A white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis

  • Painful or swollen testicles (although this is less common)

Rectal infections may either cause no symptoms or cause symptoms such as:

  • Discharge

  • Itching in or around the anus

  • Soreness

  • Bleeding

  • Painful bowel movements

  • Sensation to have frequent bowel movements (tenesums)​

Throat infections usually do not have symptoms, but may cause:

  • Sore throat

  • Swollen tonsils

  • Swollen lymph nodes​

Pregnant people with gonorrhea can pass the infection to their infant. The infant may develop the following typically within three to five days after delivery:

  • Sepsis (full body infection),​

  • Meningitis (infection around the brain), or

  • Eye infections.​

See your health care provider if you notice any of these symptoms. You should also see a provider if your partner has an STI or symptoms of one. Symptoms can include an unusual sore, a smelly discharge, burning when peeing, or bleeding between periods.​

Testing

Most of the time, a health care provider will use a urine sample to diagnose gonorrhea. However, if you have had oral and/or vaginal or anal sex, your health care provider may use swabs to collect samples from your throat and/or vagina and rectum. In some cases, a health care provider may also use a swab to collect a sample from the urethra (urine canal) or cervix (opening to the uterus or womb).​

Prevention

If you are having sex, you can do the following things to lower your chances of getting gonorrhea:

  • Have sex only with a partner(s) who has been tested and does not have gonorrhea

  • Use condoms every time you have sex

  • Use doxyPEP - talk to a health care provider to see if doxyPEP is right for you

​​If you think you've been exposed to gonorrhea or you've had a partner who has tested positive for gonorrhea, tell your health care provider. You may need treatment to prevent developing gonorrhea yourself. Also, ask your health care provider about doxy-PEP. Doxy-PEP is a medication you take within 72 hours of having sex to reduce your risk of infection from syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea.

Gonorrhea is Curable!

The right antibiotic can cure gonorrhea. Most commonly, treatment is given as a one-time antibiotic shot or injection. If you are given pills, it is important that you take all of the medicine your health care provider gives you to cure your infection. Although medicine will stop the infection, it will not undo any permanent damage caused by the disease  Having gonorrhea once does not protect you from getting it again. Regular testing is the best way to identify infection early so you can get treatment and prevent complications. Talk to your health care provider to determine how often you should get tested.


It is becoming harder to treat some gonorrhea, as antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea are increasing. Return to a health care provider if your symptoms continue for more than a three days after receiving treatment.

Untreated gonorrhea can cause serious and permanent health problems.

In people with a vagina, untreated gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Some of the complications of PID are:

  • Formation of scar tissue that blocks fallopian tubes

  • Ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the womb)

  • Infertility (not being able to get pregnant)

  • Long-term pelvic/abdominal pain

In people with a penis, gonorrhea can cause a painful condition in the tubes attached to the testicles, which can, in rare cases, lead to infertility.

Rarely, untreated gonorrhea can cause a life-threatening condition, disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI) in which the infection spreads through your blood to your joints, skin, heart or even your brain – but can be avoided with routine screening and testing when you have symptoms. Untreated gonorrhea may also increase your chances of getting or giving HIV.

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