Gonorrhea is an infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Gonorrhea can lead to infection of the urethra, cervix, rectum, and throat. However, many people do not know they have gonorrhea, because although they are infected, they do not have any symptoms.
The primary risk factors for gonorrhea include:
• Engaging in sex without a male or female condom
• Having sex with more than one partner
The chance of becoming infected with gonorrhea can be reduced by avoiding risky sexual behaviors.
To reduce your risk:
• Use latex or polyurethane condoms during sex
• Limit your number of sex partners
Gonorrhea may affect the genitals, rectum, or throat. Many women and men with gonorrhea have no noticeable symptoms, especially with infection of the rectum or throat.
When symptoms in women do occur, these can include:
• Unusual vaginal discharge
• Burning during urination or increased frequency of urination
• Bleeding after intercourse
• Bleeding between periods
• Abdominal or pelvic pain
In men, symptoms of gonorrhea may include:
• Discharge from the penis
• Pain or burning with urination or increased frequency of urination
• Swollen and/or painful testicles
When left untreated, gonorrhea can increase the risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In addition, gonorrhea can enter the bloodstream, leading to an infection throughout the body, often causing pain and swelling in the joints.
In women, untreated gonorrhea can spread into the pelvic area and infect the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries—leading to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The symptoms of PID include:
• Abdominal pain
• Lower back pain
• Pain with intercourse
• Bleeding between periods
PID can be a very serious condition and requires immediate medical care. It may cause permanent damage to the woman's reproductive organs and can lead to infertility, chronic pelvic pain, and an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy.
In men, untreated gonorrhea can affect the testicles leading to swelling and pain. Related complications can lead to infertility.
There are a variety of laboratory tests that can be used to diagnose gonorrhea. Tests are done with either a urine sample or a sample obtained from a woman's cervix or a man's urethra, using a cotton swab. If rectal or throat infection is suspected, samples may also be taken from these sites.
Gonorrhea can be easily treated and cured with antibiotics. It is important to make sure your sex partner(s) also receives treatment in order to prevent getting infected again. Avoid having sex while being treated to reduce the chances of getting the infection again or transmitting it to someone else.