What is it?
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted bacterium that can infect men and women. Gonorrhea can affect the urethra, rectum and throat of both men and women. In women, gonorrhea can also infect the cervix.
Most people contract gonorrhea during sex. But pregnant women with gonorrhea can also pass the bacterium onto their babies. In babies, gonorrhea most commonly affects the eyes.
Signs and symptoms of gonorrhea that affects the urethra in men include:
- Painful urination
- Pus-like discharge from the tip of the penis
- Pain or swelling in one testicle
Signs and symptoms of gonorrhea that affects the cervix or urethra in women include:
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Painful urination
- Vaginal bleeding between periods, such as after vaginal intercourse
- Abdominal pain
- Pelvic pain
Signs and symptoms of gonorrhea that affects the rectum include:
- Anal itching
- Pus-like discharge from the rectum
- Spots of bright red blood on toilet tissue
- Straining to have a bowel movement
Signs and symptoms of gonorrhea that affects the eye include:
- Eye pain
- Pus-like discharge from the eye
- Sensitivity to light
Signs and symptoms of gonorrhea that affects the throat include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The gonorrhea bacteria are most often passed from one person to another during sexual contact, including oral, anal or vaginal intercourse.
Factors that may increase your risk of gonorrhea infection include:
- Younger age
- A new sex partner
- Multiple sex partners
- Previous gonorrhea diagnosis
Untreated gonorrhea can lead to significant complications, such as:
- Infertility in women. Untreated gonorrhea can spread into the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which may result in scarring of the tubes, greater risk of pregnancy complications and infertility. PID may lead to abdominal pain, backache, irregular menstrual periods, pain during intercourse and foul-smelling vaginal discharge. It's a serious infection that requires immediate treatment.
- Infertility in men. Men with untreated gonorrhea can experience epididymitis — inflammation of the rear portion of the testicles where the sperm ducts are located (epididymis). Epididymitis is treatable, but if left untreated, it may lead to infertility.
- Infection that spreads to the joints and other areas of your body. The bacterium that causes gonorrhea can spread through the bloodstream and infect other parts of your body, including your joints. Fever, rash, skin sores, joint pain, swelling and stiffness are possible results.
- Increased risk of HIV/AIDS. Having gonorrhea makes you more susceptible to infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that leads to AIDS. People who have both gonorrhea and HIV are able to pass both diseases more readily to their partners.
- Complications in babies. Babies who contract gonorrhea from their mothers during birth can develop blindness, sores on the scalp, joint infections and other infections.
To determine whether the gonorrhea bacterium is present in your body, your doctor will analyze a sample of cells. Samples can be collected by:
- Urine test. This may help identify bacteria in your urethra.
- Swab of affected area. A swab of your throat, urethra, vagina or rectum may collect bacteria that can be identified in a laboratory.
Testing for other sexually transmitted diseases
People with gonorrhea have an increased risk of other sexually transmitted diseases, so your doctor may recommend testing for these. That way, your doctor may treat other infections at the same time as you receive gonorrhea treatment. For instance, chlamydia and gonorrhea often occur at the same time.