Gonorrhea: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD), sometimes referred to as “the clap.”

There are an estimated 78 million new cases of gonorrhea diagnosed each year globally. In the United States alone, there are an estimated 820,000 new gonorrhea infections each year. Gonorrhea is easily treated but sometimes can cause permanent complications. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) occurs in women when gonorrhea infection affects their uterus or fallopian tubes. The most serious complication associated with pelvic inflammatory disease is infertility.

Facts on gonorrhea

  • Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
  • Gonorrhea can be passed from mother to baby during delivery.
  • Gonorrhea and chlamydia can be experienced simultaneously.
  • Gonorrhea can increase a person’s risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV if left untreated.

Symptoms of Gonorrhea

Symptoms can appear from 1-14 days after the actual infection. Symptoms may be absent despite an active gonorrheal infection. Symptoms in men and women are slightly different.

READ ALSO: Man in U.K. Has World’s Worst Case of Super-Gonorrhea

Symptoms in men include:

  • painful or frequent urination
  • pain in the testicles or scrotum
  • white, yellow, or green urethral discharge, resembling pus
  • itching, pain, bleeding, or pain when passing stools and anal discharge
  • itching, difficulty swallowing, or swollen neck lymph nodes
  • red, swollen, warm, painful joints
  • eye pain, light sensitivity, or eye discharge resembling pus

Symptoms in women include:

  • painful sexual intercourse or bleeding after intercourse
  • painful or frequent urination
  • yellow or green vaginal discharge
  • vulvar swelling
  • fever
  • bleeding in-between periods
  • heavier periods
  • vomiting and abdominal or pelvic pain
  • anal discharge, itching, pain, bleeding, or pain with passing bowel movements
  • sore throat, itching, difficulty swallowing, or swollen neck lymph nodes
  • eye pain, light sensitivity, and eye discharge resembling pus
  • red, swollen, warm, painful joints

READ ALSO: Chlamydia Infections

Causes of Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Apart from the reproductive tract, gonorrhea can also affect the mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth, throat, and rectum.

The infection is transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person involving the vagina, penis, anus, or mouth. Men do not need to ejaculate to transmit or acquire gonorrhea. An infected mother can pass on gonorrhea to her baby during delivery.

READ ALSO: Syphilis: Symptoms and Treatment

Although all sexually active individuals are at risk for acquiring gonorrhea, the highest rates of infection occur in teenagers, young adults, and African-Americans.


Testing for gonorrhea can be examined with a urine sample or a swab of an affected area. Swab samples are commonly taken from the penis, cervix, urethra, anus, and throat. If the test results comes back positive, the individual and their partner will need to undergo treatment. This typically involves:

  • Antibiotics– a doctor will likely administer both a shot (ceftriaxone) and an oral medication (azithromycin).
  • Abstaining from sexual intercourse– until treatment is complete, there is still a risk of complications and spread of infection.
  • Repeat testing in some cases– it is not always necessary to be tested to make sure the treatment has worked. Retesting should be performed 7 days after treatment.

If a woman is pregnant and infected with gonorrhea, the infant will be given an eye ointment to prevent gonorrhea transmission.


There are many ways to prevent acquiring or passing on gonorrhea; they include:

  • abstinence from sex
  • using condoms during sexual intercourse
  • using condoms or dental dams for oral intercourse


There are many serious potential complications of gonorrhea infection. This is why early medical treatment is necessary.

In women, gonorrhea can lead to:

  • infertility
  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • chronic pelvic pain
  • ectopic pregnancies – pregnancy where the embryo attaches outside of the uterus

In men, a gonorrheal infection can lead to:

  • epididymitis –  inflammation of the epididymis which controls the production of sperm
  • infertility

Both men and women are at risk of developing a fatal disseminated gonococcal infection when gonorrhea is left untreated. This type of infection is often characterized by:

  • tenosynovitis – inflammation and swelling around tendons
  • dermatitis
  • fever
  • Arthritis


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