Gonorrhea: Symptoms, treatment, and causes

Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease, sometimes referred to as “the clap.” It affects hundreds of thousands of men and women annually in the United States.

Globally, there are an estimated 78 million new cases of gonorrhea diagnosed each year. In the United States alone, there are an estimated 820,000 new gonorrhea infections each year. However, not all cases are diagnosed and reported; only 333,004 cases of gonorrhea were reported in the U.S. in 2013.

Gonorrhea is easily treated but can cause serious and sometimes permanent complications. Pelvic inflammatory disease occurs in women when the gonorrhea infection affects their uterus or fallopian tubes. The most serious complication associated with pelvic inflammatory disease is infertility.

Complications in men with gonorrhea include epididymitis (an inflammation of the tube which carries sperm) and infertility.

Fast facts on gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Gonorrhea can be passed from mother to baby during delivery.

Gonorrhea and chlamydia can be experienced simultaneously.

If untreated, gonorrhea can increase a person’s risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV.

Symptoms

Symptoms may be absent despite an active gonorrheal infection. Symptoms can appear anywhere from 1-14 days following exposure to the infection.

Men and women experience slightly different symptoms; these can include:

Men:

white, yellow, or green urethral discharge, resembling pus

inflammation or swelling of the foreskin

pain in the testicles or scrotum

painful or frequent urination

anal discharge, itching, pain, bleeding, or pain when passing stools

itching, difficulty swallowing, or swollen neck lymph nodes

eye pain, light sensitivity, or eye discharge resembling pus

red, swollen, warm, painful joints

Women:

painful sexual intercourse

fever

yellow or green vaginal discharge

vulvar swelling

bleeding in-between periods

heavier periods

bleeding after intercourse

vomiting and abdominal or pelvic pain

painful or frequent urination

sore throat, itching, difficulty swallowing, or swollen neck lymph nodes

eye pain, light sensitivity, and eye discharge resembling pus

red, swollen, warm, painful joints

Anal gonorrhea signs include:

itching, bleeding, or pain with passing bowel movements

anal discharge

An itching or burning sensation in the eyes may be a symptom of conjunctivitis. If infected semen or fluid comes into contact with the eyes, a person can develop conjunctivitis.

[A syringe of antibiotics and pills]
Antibiotics forms part of the treatment of gonorrhea.

Upon displaying symptoms, a doctor may recommend a test for gonorrhea in addition to other diseases. Testing for gonorrhea can be completed by analyzing a urine sample or a swab of an affected area. Swab samples are commonly taken from the penis, cervix, urethra, anus, and throat.

Home kits for women are also available that include vaginal swabs. These kits are sent to a laboratory and results are reported directly to the patient.

If testing is positive for a gonorrhea infection, the individual and their partner will need to undergo treatment. This typically involves:

Antibiotics – a doctor will likely administer both a shot (ceftriaxone) and an oral medication (azithromycin).

Abstaining from sexual intercourse – until treatment is complete, there is still a risk of complications and spread of infection.

Repeat testing in some cases – it is not always necessary to be tested to make sure the treatment has worked. However, the CDC recommends retesting for some patients, and a doctor will decide if it is necessary. Retesting should be performed 7 days after treatment.

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