Gonorrhea Overview

Reviewed: May 12, 2014

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can infect both men and women.

Gonorrhea can cause infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat. It is a very common infection, especially among young adults. You can get gonorrhea during vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected partner. An infected pregnant woman with gonorrhea can pass it to her baby during childbirth.

Gonorrhea can be cured with proper treatment.




Gonorrhea Symptoms

Gonorrhea does not always cause symptoms. Some men and most women do not have any symptoms at all. Even when a woman has symptoms, they are often mild and can be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection.

Symptoms of gonorrhea in men:

  • Infection of the urethra (urethritis) is the typical infection in men, commonly developing in 5 to 7 days after having sex with an affected person. 
    Symptoms include fluid discharge and pain or burning during urination. Irritation and redness at the end of the penis, or a feeling of wanting to pass urine frequently can also be symptoms of an infection of the urethra.
  • If untreated, it can cause problems with the prostate and testicles.

Symptoms of gonorrhea in women:

  • increase or change in vaginal discharge
  • pain in the lower part of the stomach
  • bleeding between periods, or heavy periods
  • pain when passing urine
  • rectal itching or a sore throat
  • If untreated, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which causes problems with pregnancy and infertility.

Gonorrhea Causes

Gonorrhea is caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. These bacteria can infect the genital tract, mouth, and rectum of both men and women. In women the opening to the uterus (cervix) is the first place of infection.

Gonorrhea Diagnosis

Health care providers may use one or more of the following lab tests to diagnose gonorrhea:

  • Staining samples directly for the bacteria
  • Detecting bacterial genes or DNA in urine
  • Growing the bacteria in laboratory cultures

Living With Gonorrhea

Wait seven days after finishing all medications before having sex.

To avoid getting infected with gonorrhea again or spreading gonorrhea to your partner(s), you and your sex partner(s) should avoid having sex until you have each completed treatment. If you’ve had gonorrhea and took medicine in the past, you can still get infected again if you have unprotected sex with a person who has gonorrhea.


Gonorrhea Treatments

Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. Treating gonorrhea is becoming more difficult because drug-resistant strains are becoming more common. If your symptoms continue for more than a few days after receiving treatment, you should return to your health care provider to be checked again.

Gonorrhea and chlamydia often infect people at the same time. Therefore, your health care provider may prescribe a combination of antibiotics, which will treat both diseases.

If you have gonorrhea, all of your sexual partners should get tested and then treated if infected, whether or not they have symptoms. Health experts also recommend that you not have sex until your infected partners have been treated.

Gonorrhea Prognosis

It is important that you take all of the medication your doctor prescribes to cure your infection. Do not share your medication. Although medication will stop the infection, it will not undo any permanent damage caused by the disease.

You can protect yourself from getting gonorrhea by:

  • Not having sex;
  • Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and has negative STD test results;
  • Using latex condoms and dental dams the right way every time you have sex.