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Gonorrhea: All You Need To Know

Medically reviewed by Mary Rani Cadiz, MD · Obstetrics and Gynecology

Written by Maridol Ranoa-Bismark · Updated Dec 21, 2021

Gonorrhea: All You Need To Know

Gonorrhea is a contagious sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacteria neisseria gonorrhoeae. It is transmitted by having unprotected sex – oral, anal, and/or vaginal.

Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the organism that causes gonorrhea, breeds in warm, moist parts of the body like the urethra (the tube that discharges urine from the urinary bladder), eyes, throat, vagina, anus, and in the female reproductive tract, which includes  the fallopian tubes, cervix and uterus.

Gonorrhea Causes and How to Avoid Them

Gonorrhea is contagious. People contract it through sexual contact. They can catch the bacterium simply by touching an infected person’s penis, vagina, mouth and/or anus. Thus, a man does not have to ejaculate to transmit the disease. 

Infected women can transmit gonorrhea to their infant via vaginal delivery. But babies delivered through Caesarean section may be at less risk from the disease. 

Gonorrhea cannot be contracted by touching toilet seats or the clothes an infected person used. Like most germs, those from gonorrhea do not survive for long outside the sick person’s body.

What are the symptoms of gonorrhea?  

Gonorrhea causes a variety of symptoms.

The most common of which are the following.

Gonorrhea causes the following symptoms in men:

  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Testicles that are painful and swollen
  • Whitish, yellowish, or greenish penis discharge 

Gonorrhea causes the following symptoms in women: 

Most don’t show symptoms. If there are, the signs are mild, and they include  

In case you have symptoms, consult a doctor.

Gonorrhea causes symptoms in different parts of the body. For instance, gonorrhea in the rectum may make one:

  • Bleed
  • Get a discharge
  • Itch
  • Have painful bowel movement
  • Feel sore

What are some of the complications of gonorrhea? 

Gonorrhea causes more serious conditions, when left untreated.

Untreated gonorrhea causes:

  • Higher risk of HIV infection
  • Infection in other areas of the body, like the skin or joints
  • Infertility
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause long-term pain in the pelvis, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility in women 
  • In pregnant women, miscarriage, premature labor and  birth to babies with conjunctivitis 
  • Scarring of the urethra, painful infection in the testicles and prostate gland, leading to decreased fertility in men

How is gonorrhea treated?

A doctor can confirm if the patient is suffering from gonorrhea. Early treatment is crucial  to prevent further complications that may affect other organs of the body. 

Infants born with the disease, or infants that have a high risk for gonorrhea because their mother has the infection, must get antibiotics shortly after birth.

Older people who have tested positive for gonorrhea may need to take the antibiotic injection, Ceftriaxone, or a dose of Azithromycin by mouth.

It should be noted that some strains of the bacteria that cause gonorrhea are resistant to antibiotics. As with any antibiotic treatment therapy, it is crucial to finish the whole course of treatment to get the full benefits of the drug.

Failure to complete the treatment may lead to a person developing antibiotic resistance. It is also important to return to your doctor after two weeks for a follow up check-up to make sure that you have fully recovered.  Only then are you free to resume sexual activity.

How to prevent Gonorrhea

To protect your reproductive health, it is encouraged that you have yourself tested for STDs and other related illnesses regularly. Consult your doctor about what tests you should take. 

To reduce your risk of contracting gonorrhea, you may do the following:

  • Practice sexual abstinence, especially when your partner has symptoms of the disease
  • Use proper protection such as condoms when having sex
  • Regular have yourself tested for STDs

Gonorrhea can affect anyone, but others may be more susceptible to the disease.

Who are at higher risk of contracting gonorrhea:  

  • Young people
  • People having sexual activities with a new partner
  • Those engaging in sex with a partner who has sex with others
  • Those with numerous sexual partners
  • Those with a history of gonorrhea
  • People who have had other STDs
  • Alcohol or drug abuse, especially taking drugs intravenously

If you suspect that you may have contracted the STD, schedule an appointment with a doctor. 

Testing is highly recommended if: 

  • A person or his/her partner shows symptoms of the disease
  • A person has had unprotected sexual contact with someone new
  • Your sexual partner admits he/she has an STD
  • Upon examination, the nurse or physician informs you that cells in your cervix are inflamed, or he/she sees a discharge 
  • You are a pregnant woman, or are planning to have a baby. Testing may be recommended in order to protect the unborn from getting complications of the disease 

Health professionals are required to report cases of gonorrhea to the nearest public health department as soon as possible. From here, government health officials can locate, reach out to, test, treat cases and prevent the spread of the disease within the community. They will also reach out to those who have been in contact with the sick person to keep the disease from infecting more people.

Visiting the doctor

If you have gonorrhea, go to the doctor at once. Be honest about your condition and sexual history, so the doctor can prescribe the best possible treatment and check the spread of the disease. 

Let your physician know:

  • Your symptoms in detail
  • Your complete sexual history
  • Contact details of previous sexual partners. The doctor and medical health team will get in touch with your partners, but will keep your identity safe. 

What are the trends in gonorrhea cases?

Gonorrhea is on the rise. It ranks second as the most reported disease in the US, where gonorrhea cases rose by 5% between 2017 and 2018, for a total of 580,000  cases.

Figures from 2018 show that: 

  • Adolescents and young adults in the US registered the highest number of reported cases. The highest incidence was found among 20-24 year old women, followed by those aged 15 to 19. 
  • Men ages 20 to 24, on the other hand, were reported to be the most infected, followed by those in the 25 to 29 age group. 

Gonorrhea causes serious problems when left untreated. But the disease is curable. As in most cases, awareness and early detection are the key.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mary Rani Cadiz, MD

Obstetrics and Gynecology

Written by Maridol Ranoa-Bismark · Updated Dec 21, 2021

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