Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), especially among young people in the 15-24 age group. While there is a cure, the infection can cause serious complications if it’s not treated properly. Learn more about gonorrhea, including what symptoms to watch for, how the infection is treated, and how to protect yourself.
What is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted bacterial infection that affects the urethra, rectum, or throat. In women, gonorrhea may also infect the cervix.
Typically, gonorrhea is spread during sex (vaginal, anal, or oral). Sometimes babies are infected at birth if their mothers have this STI. When a baby contracts gonorrhea, it usually affects the eyes.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported notifiable disease in the United States. (A notifiable disease is one that by law must be reported to health authorities.) In 2017, there were 555,608 reported cases of gonorrhea nationwide. From 2016 to 2017, the number of gonorrhea cases increased by 18.6%. This represented an increase of more than 75% since 2009, when cases of gonorrhea were at a historic low.
Gonorrhea infection in on the rise more in men than in women. From 2013 to 2017, the rate among men increased by 86.3%. During that same period, the rate among women increased by 39.4%.
In some cases, gonorrhea causes no symptoms. In fact, you could be infected and not realize it. When symptoms do appear, they usually occur in the genital area. Men are more likely to experience symptoms from gonorrhea, and those symptoms typically include:
- Pain or burning sensation with urination
- Pus-like discharge from the tip of the penis
- Pain or swelling in the testicles
In women, symptoms are less likely, but when they do appear they’re usually noticeable within about a week of infection. Symptoms of gonorrhea in women include:
- Pain or burning sensation with urination
- Increased vaginal discharge that may be bloody or yellowish
- Painful intercourse
- Vaginal bleeding between periods, including after vaginal intercourse
- Abdominal or pelvic pain
When gonorrhea occurs in other parts of the body, these are symptoms you might experience in those areas:
- Rectum: Anal itching, pus-like anal discharge, straining during bowel movements, and spots of blood on your toilet paper
- Throat: Sore throat and swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Eyes: Pus-like eye discharge, eye pain, and sensitivity to light
If it goes untreated, gonorrhea can cause serious health complications, including:
- Infertility: Both men and women can experience infertility if their gonorrhea is not treated. In women, the infection can spread into the uterus and fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). In men, it can cause a condition called epididymitis, which involves inflammation in the testicles.
- Joint infections: Gonorrhea can travel through the bloodstream to infect other parts of the body like your joints — causing pain, swelling, stiffness, fever, rash, and other symptoms.
- Increased risk of HIV: When you have gonorrhea, you’re more likely to contract HIV if exposed so it.
- Risks for babies: Babies who contract gonorrhea from their mothers during childbirth may develop other infections, sores on the scalp, and even blindness.
Treatment for Gonorrhea
If you notice any signs or symptoms of gonorrhea, or if your partner has been diagnosed with gonorrhea, get tested right away.
If you test positive, your doctor will prescribe antibiotic medication to stop the infection. Do not share the medication with anyone and take the full course of antibiotics even if your symptoms go away. Wait seven days after finishing your medication before having sex, and inform any recent partners about your infection so they can be tested for gonorrhea.
How to Protect Against Gonorrhea
There are several ways you can protect yourself against contracting gonorrhea, including:
- Using condoms when you have sex
- Not having sex if your partner has any symptoms of gonorrhea
- Asking your partner about their status or requesting that they get tested for STIs
It’s a good idea to get regularly tested for gonorrhea and other STIs. You can be screened for sexually transmitted infections at many doctor’s offices and health clinics, and Nurx now offers STI Home Test Kits that include tests for gonorrhea. Nurx also provides telehealth services for birth control options such as patches, rings, and trusted pills like Seasonique and Yaz.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of Nurx™.