Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat. It’s very common, with the CDC estimating 1.14 million new infections in the United States each year, especially among 15- to 24-year-olds.
How Is Gonorrhea Spread?
You can get gonorrhea a few different ways through sexual contact with an infected partner’s penis, vagina, mouth, or anus. You can also get it during sex, even if your partner did not ejaculate. If you’ve had it before and are in contact with another infected partner, it’s possible to get reinfected.
Infected mothers can also spread the infection to their unborn children during delivery.
Lowering Your Risk of Infection
Since gonorrhea is transmitted through sexual fluids like semen (cum), pre-cum, and vaginal fluids, the best way to avoid infection is avoiding vaginal, anal, and oral sex. At the same time, using barrier methods such as latex condoms can lower your chances of contracting gonorrhea. You can also decrease your risk of infection by remaining in a mutually monogamous relationship and getting yourself and your partner tested yearly.
Gonorrhea Signs and Symptoms
In both men and women, gonorrhea can cause a rectal infection that manifests in anal discharge and itching, soreness, bleeding, and/or painful bowel movements. However, in some cases, an infection in the rectum may remain asymptomatic. In the case of a pharyngeal infection, there may be soreness in the throat but the majority of cases are asymptomatic.
For many men specifically, gonorrhea can be asymptomatic at first but with time can develop into a urethral infection. This can look like white, yellow, or green urethral discharge one to fourteen days after infection. If a urethral infection is accompanied by epididymitis, men with gonorrhea may also experience testicular or scrotal pain.
Women with gonorrhea can also be asymptomatic at first or have symptoms such as pain and burning with urination or intermenstrual spotting that could be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection. If left untreated, women with gonorrhea are at risk of developing serious complications from the infection, regardless of the presence or severity of symptoms.
A pregnant woman can give her baby gonorrhea as the baby passes through the birth canal during delivery. This can result in joint infection, blindness, or a life-threatening blood infection in the baby. Thankfully, if a pregnant woman is treated for gonorrhea as soon as it’s detected, the risk of these complications is significantly reduced.
If you’ve contracted gonorrhea, treatment is absolutely necessary to avoid serious and permanent health problems.
Gonorrhea can spread into the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women. Symptoms can range from lower abdominal discomfort to severe pain and fever. Pelvic inflammatory disease can result in internal abscesses, chronic pelvic pain, and scarring in the fallopian tubes that could lead to infertility and/or increase the risk of an ectopic pregnancy.
In men, gonorrhea may be complicated by epididymitis, leading to infertility in rare cases. If untreated, this STI can spread to the blood and cause disseminated gonococcal infection, a potentially life-threatening disease characterized by arthritis, tenosynovitis, and/or dermatitis.
When To Test for Gonorrhea?
If you’re sexually active under the age of 25, we recommend annual gonorrhea tests for both men and women even if you don’t have symptoms. Annual tests are also recommended for sexually active women over the age of 25 with certain risk factors—chat with your healthcare provider to understand your risks for complications if you contract gonorrhea. Your healthcare provider can also address any questions or concerns you may have about your reproductive and sexual health.
While there are at-home gonorrhea tests available, we recommend seeing a healthcare provider for a confirmed diagnosis. Your healthcare professional may test your urine or if you’re exhibiting throat or rectum symptoms, a throat or rectum swab sample may be collected. Your provider may also take a sample from your urethra or cervix. Samples are then tested for gonococcal infection. Results are typically back within two or three days but can take up to one week.
Gonorrhea is treated with a round of oral antibiotics and an intramuscular shot. It is important to take all of the medication prescribed and not to share it with anyone—the full dosage must be taken to successfully treat the infection. Unfortunately, antibiotics won’t repair any permanent damage done by the disease so if you suspect you’ve contracted an STI, see a healthcare provider as soon as possible to get tested.
If you’ve started treatment and symptoms persist for more than a few days, return to your healthcare provider to get reevaluated.
Need A Free/Low Cost Gonorrhea Test?
If you have follow-up questions or need a test, visit The Source to get a free/low cost consultation and gonorrhea test. You can bring your partner to get tested as well. Click the button below to book a 15- to 30-minute appointment.