Disseminated Gonorrhea Infections

Gonorrhea. Science Picture Co/Collection Mix: Subjects/Getty Images

As problems with antibiotic resistance grow, treatment for gonorrhea is becoming less and less effective. Ineffective gonorrhea treatment can increase the duration of an infection and lead to problems such as pelvic inflammatory disease and disseminated gonorrhea infections. However, being infected with antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea does not inherently increase your risk of long-term gonorrhea complications.

It's the effective treatment that matters, not whether your infection needs to be treated with one antibiotic or another.

Gonorrhea Infection Spread Throughout the Body

Although gonorrhea infections are usually associated with the genitals, the throat, or the rectum,  gonorrhea complications can sometimes cause the infection to spread throughout the body. Such disseminated gonorrhea infections occur in up to 3 percent of individuals infected with gonorrhea. These infections may also be referred to as disseminated gonococcal infections — after the type of bacteria that cause gonorrhea.

Disseminated gonorrhea is more common in women than men - possibly because women are more likely than men to be asymptomatic during their initial infection and thus less likely to seek treatment before suffering from gonorrhea complications. However, it's also worth noting that disseminated gonorrhea infections can be very difficult to detect with standard gonorrhea tests, such as those done on swabs or urine samples.

Disseminated gonorrhea infections most often present as arthritis - aching and swelling in the joints. However, they can also cause skin lesions and infections of the heart, bones, and the sheaths that cover the nervous system (meninges). In rare cases, disseminated gonorrhea can cause a lupus flare-up or even be fatal.

Fortunately, once infections are identified, disseminated gonorrhea is usually easy to treat with antibiotics; however, is becoming less true as antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea strains become more common.

Did You Know: Gonorrhea was once the leading cause of arthritis in the United States.


Guinto-Ocampo H, Friedland LR. Disseminated gonococcal infection in three adolescents. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2001 Dec;17(6):441-3.

Rice PA. Gonococcal arthritis (disseminated gonococcal infection). Infect Dis Clin North Am. 2005 Dec;19(4):853-61 

Shaw JW, Flegg P, Sweeney J. Gonococcal tenosynovitis in two HIV-infected heterosexual men: delayed diagnoses following negative urine nucleic acid amplification testing. Int J STD AIDS. 2015 May 6. pii: 0956462415585253.

Skerlev M, Čulav-Košćak I. Gonorrhea: new challenges. Clin Dermatol. 2014 Mar-Apr;32(2):275-81. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2013.08.010.