Gonorrhea guide

Definition

What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a common STD … the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates some 700,000 new infections in the United States every year.* Unfortunately, because symptoms show up in fewer than half the cases, the gonorrhea infections often go undiagnosed and untreated.

Gonorrhea is caused by a bacteria, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, that can be passed from person to person during unprotected vaginal, anal and oral sex … even if the tongue, penis or sex toy doesn't fully penetrate the anus or vagina. The bacteria attacks the mucous membranes it comes in contact with, including inside the penis, vagina, anus and throat. It's also possible for an infected mother to transmit gonorrhea to her baby during vaginal childbirth, potentially causing a miscarriage, damage to the baby's eyes, or other health complications.

The good news is that gonorrhea is easily treated and curable with antibiotics. Left untreated, however, gonorrhea can lead to serious health problems down the road — from infertility to cystistis and Disseminated Gonoccocal Infection (DGI) — and increase your risk of getting other STDs, like HIV.

Gonorrhea spreads easily … if you have it, your sexual partner probably does, too. You should both get tested and treated at the same time so that you don't re-infect one another … or anyone else.

Reference

Risk

Gonorrhea risk factors

How do people get infected with gonorrhea?

Anyone can get gonorrhea, usually through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. The most common risk factors are:

  • A history of gonorrhea
  • A history of unprotected sex
  • A new sexual partner
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • A history of substance abuse

Due to reporting disparities and a number of other variables, there is a higher prevalence of gonorrhea among sexually active females, teenagers, young adults and African-Americans … for example, women are more likely to get screened, and some ethnic and racial minority groups are more likely to use public clinics that report STD cases. As well, awareness of STDs and how to prevent them, and access to regular healthcare are inconsistent among populations that are disadvantaged by poverty and other social determinants … these groups may therefore be more likely to engage in risky sexual activity.

What are some ways that gonorrhea cannot be spread?

You cannot get gonorrhea from toilet seats, towels, shaking hands, deep kissing, sharing a glass of water, or the like. Gonorrhea is only transmitted sexually, or through birth.

If I get gonorrhea once, is it possible to get it again?

Even if you've been treated for gonorrhea, you're not immune … you can be re-infected. That's why sexual partners should be treated at the same time so that an untreated partner still carrying the bacteria doesn't re-infect the treated partner.

Want to learn more?

Symptoms

Gonorrhea signs and symptoms

Most of the time, gonorrhea is silent … you can have the infection and not know it. That's why getting tested is so important.

If you do show symptoms, they'll typically occur within two to eight days after sexual contact.

Gonorrhea symptoms in women

Common
  • No symptoms
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Burning or painful urination
  • Bleeding after sex or between periods
Uncommon
  • Pelvic pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Nausea or fever
  • Pain during sex
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Rectal discharge, pain or bleeding

Gonorrhea symptoms in men

Common
  • No symptoms
  • Discharge from penis
  • Burning or painful urination
Uncommon
  • Burning, discomfort or itching around the opening of the penis
  • Testicular pain or swelling
  • Sore throat
  • Rash
  • Rectal discharge, pain or bleeding

Throat or rectal symptoms

Both men and women who have anal sex and get rectal infections may experience gonorrhea symptoms … including rectal discharge, pain or bleeding, or swelling of the rectum.

Additionally, a sore throat could simply mean strep throat or a virus … but, if you've have had oral sex recently, it could mean oral chlamydia or, more commonly, gonorrhea in the throat. If swallowing feels painful, or you have swollen glands or a fever — and you test negative for strep — it's a good idea to consult your regular doctor for a throat examination and a thorough swab test which cannot be done at a standard testing facility.

Complications

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.

Testing

Gonorrhea Testing

How do I get tested for gonorrhea?

We make getting tested for gonorrhea simple. We offer the Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) which is a urine test that is highly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for its reliability. You do not need to fast.

This test amplifies the DNA that is found in the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria. Molecular tests like this one are generally more sensitive than a swab test of the cervix (women), the urethra (men), or rectum for people who have receptive anal sex. Best of all, the test is easy and safe (no undressing or swabbing required!) … and it's the most accurate gonorrhea test available today.

What gonorrhea test results mean

A positive test result means you have an active gonorrhea infection that can be easily treated and cured with antibiotics. A negative test result doesn't necessarily mean that you are free of the bacteria … sometimes the infection, or signs of the infection, don't show up right away.

If you test positive, we're here to help. You'll have the opportunity to consult with a doctor on the phone right away. We'll answer your questions, prescribe treatment, and help you determine the next steps based on your specific circumstances.

Understanding false-positive or false-negative test results

As with most medical tests, there's a slight chance (1-4%) that a positive test result indicates an infection when there isn't one (false-positive); or a test comes back negative, despite the presence of infection (false-negative). For example, a false-negative test result can happen if an infected person tests too early for an infection to be detected … that means it's possible to get a negative test result but still have an STD.

Our doctors recommend testing 2 weeks after exposure, then retesting 6 to 12 weeks later to confirm your status.

Learn more about "testing windows" — the recommended amount of time between potential exposure to an STD infection, and when screening is expected to identify the infection (or re-infection); for example, if you had unprotected sex last night and became infected with gonorrhea, the bacteria wouldn't necessarily show up right away … it can take up to three weeks to test positive.

Re-infection

Even if you were treated for gonorrhea, you could be at risk for re-infection … especially if your partner has not been treated. We recommend that you get tested again to make sure that you haven't been re-infected.

According to The New England Journal of Medicine, 11% of people with gonorrhea get re-infected … all the more reason to re-test and use protection.

Treatment

Gonorrhea treatment

Is there a cure or treatment for gonorrhea?

Yes. Once you've been tested and diagnosed with gonorrhea, it can be effectively and easily cured with antibiotics — most commonly, with a single, oral dose of cefixime.

Gonorrhea can recur

Once you've been treated, the gonorrhea infection should clear within a week, but you're not immune … you can be re-infected. That's why sexual partners should be treated at the same time so that an untreated partner still carrying the bacteria doesn't re-infect the treated partner … and you'll want to avoid sexual contact altogether until your "test of cure" is negative, or until one week after both you and your partner have completed treatment.

Note: Retesting 6 weeks after taking antibiotics is an effective way to determine if the treatment was successful.

Be sure to continue to practice safer sex and use latex condoms to minimize the risk of re-infection.

While you're at it, get treated for chlamydia

People infected with gonorrhea are often co-infected with chlamydia, so it's a good idea to get treated for both infections at the same time.

Pregnancy and antibiotics

In general, gonorrhea can be cured during pregnancy with oral antibiotics. Consult with your regular doctor about the risks involved, and to identify a treatment that's best for you and your baby.

Concerned about Gonorrhea?

Find out if you should get tested today; peace of mind has never been easier. Questions about our process? See how our STD testing works.