Everything You Need To Know About Gonorrhea

Symptoms, Treatments, and Prevention of This Common STI

pensive woman sitting in bed

According the the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 300,000 new cases of gonorrhea, a common sexually transmitted infection (STI), occur annually in the United States. For women, this can have a particularly devastating effect on their reproductive health. 

Often called "the clap," gonorrhea is caused by the Neisseria gonorrhea bacteria. This bacteria can be found in moist areas of the body including the vagina, penis, eyes, throat, and rectum.

Infection can occur with contact to any of these areas.

An infected person may also spread gonorrhea from one part of their body to another by touch. It can be spread through all forms of sexual activity including oral, vaginal, and anal sex. It may even be passed to newborns if the mother is infected when childbirth occurs.

Who Gets Gonorrhea?

Although any sexually active person can get gonorrhea, it is most prevalent among those ages 15 to 30. Women who have vaginal intercourse with an infected man have a 60 to 90 percent chance of becoming infected, while men who have vaginal sex with an infected woman have a significantly lower chance of contracting this disease.

What Are the Reproductive Health Risks To Women Who Get Gonorrhea?

This STI has been shown to cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), tubal infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain. There has also been research showing that there may be a link between gonorrhea and the transmission of HIV.

The Bartholin's glands may also cause problems for women with gonorrhea. The ducts can become blocked and swell until a sore is formed. If this happens, the lower area of the vulva will turn red on the infected side. If the infection is allowed to spread, gonorrhea can affect the uterus by significantly raising the risk of PID.

What Are the Symptoms of Gonorrhea?

The symptoms of genital gonorrhea differ in men and women. The cervix is primarily affected in women diagnosed with this STI. However, untreated gonorrhea can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes. Unfortunately, the symptoms of gonorrhea in women often go unnoticed. When women do experience symptoms, they may include:

So how can you know if your partner is possibly infected? About 20 percent of the time, you won't see anything you can recognize as a symptom of gonorrhea. However, when symptoms are present in men they can include:

  • a yellow pus-like discharge from the tip of the penis
  • stinging during urination
  • frequent urination
  • blood in the urine
  • swelling of the glands in the groin
  • the head of the penis may turn red

When either women or men experience gonorrhea infection in the throat or rectum, symptoms such as pain, swelling, and discharge often occur.

What Are the Treatments for Gonorrhea?

The CDC recommends several treatment options, including various single-dose medications. Patients who are unable to tolerate these treatments can be offered alternative pharmaceutical treatments.

How Do I Prevent Gonorrhea and Other STIs?

Condoms provide your best protection against gonorrhea and other STIs. Remember, everyone who is not in a monogamous, long-term relationship needs to protect themselves by practicing safe sex.