April 05, 2019

What is Gonorrhea: Symptoms | Treatment | Prevention

Written By: Omotoso Christianah (RN,)

Gonorrhea is an infection caused by a sexually transmitted bacterium that can infect both males and females. Gonorrhea most often affects the urethra, rectum or throat. In females, gonorrhea can also infect the cervix.

Gonorrhea is most commonly spread during sex. But babies can be infected during childbirth if their mothers are infected. In babies, gonorrhea most commonly affects the eyes.

Gonorrhea is a common infection that, in many cases, causes no symptoms. You may not even know that you're infected. Abstaining from sex, using a condom if you do have sex and being in a mutually monogamous relationship are the best ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

Fast facts about 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.
  • If untreated, gonorrhea can increase a person's risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV.

Causes of Gonorrhea

  • Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The gonorrhea bacteria are most often passed from one person to another during sexual contact, including oral, anal or vaginal intercourse.
  • The infection is transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person involving the penis, vagina, anus, or mouth. Men do not need to ejaculate to transmit or acquire gonorrhea.
  • It can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during delivery

Risk factors of Gonorrhea

Factors that may increase your risk of gonorrhea infection include:

  1. Younger age
  2. A new sex partner
  3. A sex partner who has concurrent partners
  4. Multiple sex partners
  5. Previous gonorrhea diagnosis
  6. Having other sexually transmitted infections

Gonorrhea can also affect these parts of the body:

Rectum: Signs and symptoms include anal itching, pus-like discharge from the rectum, spots of bright red blood on toilet tissue and having to strain during bowel movements.

Eyes: Gonorrhea that affects your eyes may cause eye pain, sensitivity to light, and pus-like discharge from one or both eyes.

Throat: Signs and symptoms of a throat infection may include a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

Joints: If one or more joints become infected by bacteria (septic arthritis), the affected joints may be warm, red, swollen and extremely painful, especially when you move an affected joint.

Symptoms of Gonorrhea in men and women

Symptoms of Gonorrhea

Symptoms may be absent despite an active gonorrheal infection. Symptoms can appear anywhere from 1-14 days following exposure to the infection.

Men and women experience slightly different symptoms; these can include:

Symptoms of Gonorrhea in Men:

  1. white, yellow, or green urethral discharge, resembling pus
  2. inflammation or swelling of the foreskin
  3. pain in the testicles or scrotum
  4. painful or frequent urination
  5. anal discharge, itching, pain, bleeding, or pain when passing stools
  6. itching, difficulty swallowing, or swollen neck lymph nodes
  7. eye pain, light sensitivity, or eye discharge resembling pus
  8. red, swollen, warm, painful joints

Symptoms of Gonorrhea in Women

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

Anal(Anus) gonorrhea signs  may include:

  • itching, bleeding, or pain with passing bowel movements
  • anal discharge
  • An itching or burning sensation in the eyes may be a symptom of conjunctivitis .
  •  If infected semen or fluid comes into contact with the eyes, a person can develop conjunctivitis.

Treatment of Gonorrhea

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. However, the CDC recommends retesting for some patients, and a doctor will decide if it is necessary. 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. However, antibiotics may be required if an eye infection develops.

Complications of Gonorrhea

Complications of Gonorrhea

There are many serious potential complications, which highlights the need for a quick diagnosis and treatment if symptoms occur.

 In women, gonorrhea can lead to:

  • pelvic inflammatory disease, a condition that can cause abscesses
  • chronic pelvic pain
  • infertility
  • ectopic pregnancies - pregnancy where the embryo attaches outside of the uterus
READ ALSO: Can Chlamydia be cured?

 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 life-threatening disseminated gonococcal infection when gonorrhea is untreated. This type of infection is often characterized by:

  • fever
  • arthritis
  • tenosynovitis - inflammation and swelling around tendons
  • dermatitis


❤Those infected with gonorrhea are also at a
higher risk of contracting HIV or, if already HIV positive, spreading HIV in addition to gonorrhea.

❤Further complications of a gonorrheal infection can occur in pregnant women during delivery; it is possible to pass the infection to the child. Gonorrhea passed to an infant can cause joint infection, blindness, or a life-threatening blood infection.

❤Also, infected women are at an increased risk for premature labor or stillbirth if left untreated

Prevention of Gonorrhea

Prevention of Gonorrhea

 Take steps to reduce your risk of gonorrhea:

  • Use a condom if you choose to have sex.
Abstaining from sex is the surest way to prevent gonorrhea. But if you choose to have sex, use a condom during any type of sexual contact, including anal sex, oral sex or vaginal sex.

  • Ask your partner to be tested for sexually transmitted infections. 
Find out whether your partner has been tested for sexually transmitted infections, including gonorrhea. If not, ask whether he or she would be willing to be tested.

  • Don't have sex with someone who has any unusual symptoms. 
If your partner has signs or symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection, such as burning during urination or a genital rash or sore, don't have sex with that person.

  • Consider regular gonorrhea screening. 
Annual screening is recommended for all sexually active women less than 25 years of age and for older women at increased risk of infection, such as those who have a new sex partner, more than one sex partner, a sex partner with concurrent partners, or a sex partner who has a sexually transmitted infection.

Regular screening is also recommended for men who have sex with men, as well as their partners.

  • To avoid reinfection with gonorrhea, abstain from unprotected sex for seven days after you and your sex partner have completed treatment and after resolution of symptoms, if present.

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