Does Gonorrhea Cause Miscarriage?

Gonorrhea and Pregnancy Are a Bad Combo

The gonorrhea bacteria.
The gonorrhea bacteria.. Science Picture Co/Getty Images

Question: Does Gonorrhea Cause Miscarriage?

It's well known that sexually transmitted infections during pregnancy can sometimes be linked to miscarriage, but the risk is different for each type of infection. What's the risk of gonorrhea?

There's conflicting information out there about gonorrhea during pregnancy being linked to miscarriage. Many sources claim that an untreated infection can be linked to risk of miscarriage, and at least one study has found that having untreated gonorrhea can be linked to increased risk of a preterm birth.

Having an untreated infection while giving birth can cause life threatening complications for the baby, and untreated gonorrhea before pregnancy can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which is a risk factor for ectopic pregnancy.

All in all, gonorrhea and pregnancy aren't a good combination, and the disease is easily treated, so it makes sense to seek advice from a physician if you have symptoms of gonorrhea or if you feel you may be at risk. Note that a significant number of women do not experience any symptoms when they have a gonorrhea infection.

What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Depending on the severity of illness, gonococcal infection can cause local damage to the genitourinary tract, more extensive damage to the upper urinary tract or even systemic infection, which affects the entire body. Systemic or disseminated gonococcal infection can result in endocarditis (heart disease), arthritis and meningitis.

Both men and women can get gonorrhea. In men, gonorrhea is symptomatic 90 percent of the time and results in urethritis and pain with urination.

Many women with gonorrhea have no symptoms and are asymptomatic. However in women with clinically apparent infection, symptoms take about 10 days to appear.

Gonorrhea is typically tested for and treated in an outpatient (office) setting by an OB-GYN, family medicine physician or internist.

Here are some symptoms of gonorrhea in women:

  • urethral damage
  • dysuria or difficulty urinating
  • cervicitis
  • pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • pharyngitis or throat infection

Anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of women with cervicitis secondary to gonorrhea also have throat infection attributable to the infection. Throat infection with gonorrhea results from oral sex.

Pregnancy doesn't stop gonorrhea from causing illness and symptoms; however, women in their second and third trimesters who have gonorrhea less commonly exhibit pelvic inflammatory disease.

What does gonorrhea do to a newborn?

Gonorrhea in the newborn has been linked to infection of the eyes, lungs and rectum. On a related note, gonorrhea found in an infant or young child is usually due to sexual abuse.

How common is gonorrhea?

In the United States, the overall prevalence of gonorrhea has declined ever since 1975.

Nevertheless, gonorrhea is the second most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.

Throughout the world, there are 62 million cases of gonorrhea diagnosed each year, with the greatest number of people infected with the disease living in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa.

How is gonorrhea treated?

People with gonorrhea--especially pregnant women--are often treated for chlamydia at the same time that they are treated for gonorrhea. Like gonorrhea, chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection.

Gonorrhea can be treated with oral antibiotics like Cipro (a fluoroquinolone) or ceftriaxone (a cephalosporin). Alternatively, gonorrhea can be treated with an injection of antibiotics (Rocephin). Of note, chlamydia is treated with antibiotics, too, such as amoxicillin, azithromycin and erythromycin.

A single does of antibiotics will work in about 95 percent of uncomplicated gonorrhea cases.


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "Gonorrhea Chlamydia and Syphilis." ACOG Education Pamphlet AP071 Jul 2000. Accessed 9 Oct 2008.

Centers for Disease Control, "STD Facts - Gonorrhea." 28 Feb 2008. Accessed 9 Oct 2008.

Donders, G.G., J. Desmyter, D.H. De Wet, and F. A. Van Assche, "The association of gonorrhoea and syphilis with premature birth and low birthweight." Genitourinary Medicine Apr 1993. Accessed 9 Oct 2008.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Gonorrhea." May 2005. Accessed 9 Oct 2008.

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