Gonorrhea guide

Gonorrhea complications

What if gonorrhea is untreated?

Left undiagnosed and untreated, gonorrhea can cause reproductive problems and other health complications. That's why getting tested is so important.

Untreated gonorrhea in women may result in:

  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage or life-threatening ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus)
  • Bladder inflammation
  • Pelvic pain

Untreated gonorrhea in men may result in:

  • Infertility
  • Narrowed and scarred urethra
  • Prostate inflammation
  • Inflammation of the testes and epididymis

Latent gonorrhea complications

Disseminated Gonococcal Infection (DGI) is an uncommon complication of gonorrhea that spreads to other parts of the body (e.g., bloodstream, heart, joints and skin) and may include these symptoms:

  • Arthritis or joint inflammation
  • Fever, chills, body aches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches or a stiff neck
  • Skin rash or lesions
  • Seizures

While DGI affects only up to 3% of people with gonorrhea, it can cause very serious health complications...another reason to get tested sooner, rather than later.

Gonorrhea and HIV

People with gonorrhea are more likely to get HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It's estimated that 27% of people with an HIV infection were diagnosed with gonorrhea within the previous 12 months.

In general, someone who has one STD is at greater risk for infection with other STDs, including HIV. That's because STDs that cause ulcers, sores, or otherwise break the skin or mucous membranes make carriers more susceptible to infection...also, someone with one or more STDs may have a weakened immune system that makes them more vulnerable to other diseases.

Gonorrhea and pregnancy

There's a risk that a mother infected by the bacteria can pass it to her baby during delivery, potentially causing blindness, joint problems, a blood infection or other risks to the infant's health. To reduce these complications, early testing and treatment of gonorrhea is critical for pregnant women.

If you're pregnant and concerned about gonorrhea, be sure to consult your regular doctor.

Last reviewed by Lisa Oldson, MD, January 2011.

Lisa Oldson, MD

STD expert

"The first thing I tell a patient about STDs is that if you're worried about one STD, you should probably worry about all STDs. In other words, if you had unprotected sex and you're worried about a possible HIV exposure, it's important to understand that hepatitis can be spread in the same fashion...ditto for chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis."