8 Things to Know About Gonorrhea

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Elizabeth Hanes, RN on December 18, 2020
  • Young couple at restaurant smiling
    Facts About Gonorrhea
    Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), especially among young people. Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and it affects both men and women. Sometimes the symptoms are mild and resemble a urinary tract infection or yeast infection. In fact, it’s possible to be infected with gonorrhea and not know it. While antibiotics can effectively treat gonorrhea, this bacterium is rapidly becoming resistant to treatment. Learn more facts about gonorrhea, its symptoms, and how to prevent it.
  • Couple snuggling and holding hands in bed
    1. Gonorrhea spreads through sexual activity.
    You can get gonorrhea from an infected partner when you participate in oral, genital, vaginal or anal sex. You can be infected with gonorrhea in the mouth, vagina, urethra or anus. Any person infected with gonorrhea can spread it to another person, and your risk of getting gonorrhea rises when you have multiple sex partners. If you develop gonorrhea symptoms, your healthcare provider can perform a simple test to find out if you’ve become infected.
  • man leaning against sink in bathroom
    2. Gonorrhea symptoms can be subtle.
    Women infected with gonorrhea often believe they have a urinary tract infection or yeast infection instead, because the symptoms of these conditions all mimic each other. In women, gonorrhea can cause vaginal discharge, painful urination, and painful intercourse. Men infected with gonorrhea might experience burning with urination or a yellow or greenish discharge from the penis. Oral gonorrhea can cause a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes. Gonorrhea of the rectum can cause painful bowel movements not unlike constipation.
  • Young Asian American female patient talking and smiling with older Caucasian female doctor in exam room
    3. Testing for gonorrhea is simple and painless.
    Anyone with symptoms of an STD like gonorrhea should see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis, because these infections are easiest to treat in their earliest stages. Testing for gonorrhea involves taking a swab of cells from the cervix (like a Pap smear) or the urethra in men. This sample is examined under a microscope to learn if it contains gonococcal bacteria. If you have gonorrhea, your provider will prescribe a prescription antibiotic to treat it.
  • Mother holding newborn baby in hospital
    4. Gonorrhea can be passed from mother to baby during childbirth.
    Pregnant women in a high-risk category for gonorrhea (such as having multiple sex partners) or those with symptoms of gonorrhea should consult their doctor as soon as possible. Gonorrhea in an infant is very dangerous and can cause serious health problems. Your healthcare provider can test you for gonorrhea and prescribe treatment to help protect your health and that of your baby.
  • Close-up of couple with a condom on bed
    5. Consistent condom use reduces your risk of getting gonorrhea.
    You can reduce your risk of getting gonorrhea in several ways: by entirely abstaining from sex, by having sex only with a single partner, or by consistently and correctly using a condom before vaginal, oral or anal sex. Using a condom will not prevent you from getting gonorrhea (or other STDs, like herpes or genital warts), but correctly using a condom can reduce your risk. To use a condom correctly, always put it on before engaging in any sexual activity, make sure it contains no tears, and use a water-based lubricant.
  • Middle aged male Caucasian gay couple sitting together in booth laughing
    6. It’s possible to have gonorrhea and not know it.
    Many people may be infected with gonorrhea but have no symptoms. To prevent spreading gonorrhea, doctors recommend gonorrhea testing annually if you are a sexually active woman under age 25, a sexually active older woman in a high-risk category (such as those who have multiple sex partners), or a sexually active man who has sex with men. Annual screening for gonorrhea can help you preserve your health and that of your partner. Ask your healthcare provider whether you should be screened.
  • Medicines in hand
    7. Gonorrhea is becoming resistant to antibiotics.
    Gonorrhea treatment involves taking antibiotics to destroy the bacteria, but new drug-resistant gonorrhea strains are on the rise. If gonorrhea becomes resistant to all the available antibiotics, then it will be an untreatable disease. Take care to avoid getting gonorrhea and seek treatment immediately if you develop symptoms like burning or painful urination.
  • Couple holding hands while talking to doctor
    8. Gonorrhea can lead to infertility and spread to the bloodstream.
    In females, gonorrhea can spread beyond the vagina into the uterus and fallopian tubes—potentially leading to pelvic inflammatory disease. In males, gonorrhea can lead to epididymitis. Left untreated, it can also spread into the bloodstream causing disseminated gonococcal infection, which may become life threatening. Treatment reduces the risk of gonorrhea complications. If you are undergoing treatment, be sure to finish the full course of antibiotics to fully clear the infection.
8 Things to Know About Gonorrhea | Symptoms & Treatment With Antibiotics

About The Author

As “the nurse who knows content,” Elizabeth Hanes, RN, works with national and regional healthcare systems, brands, agencies and publishers to produce all types of consumer-facing content. Formerly a perioperative and cosmetic surgery nurse, Elizabeth today uses her nursing knowledge to inform her writing on a wide variety of medical, health and wellness topics.
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  2. Gonorrhea Test. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/gonorrhea-test/
  3. Gonorrhea – CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/STDFact-gonorrhea.htm
  4. Gonorrhea (for Teens). Nemours Foundation. https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/std-gonorrhea.html
  5. Gonorrhea Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gonorrhea/symptoms-causes/syc-20351774
  6. Antibiotic Resistant Gonorrhea. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/arg/default.htm
  7. Male Condom Use. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/male-condom-use.html
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Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 15
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.