What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea, sometimes called the clap, is a curable bacterial infection that affects the sex organs. If left untreated, gonorrhea may lead to infertility.

Gonorrhea is caused by a bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Gonorrhea is transmitted through contact with the penis, vagina, mouth, or anus. Ejaculation does not have to occur for gonorrhea to be transmitted or acquired.

Pregnant females with untreated gonorrhea may pass the infection onto their babies during vaginal childbirth (not cesarean section).

The bacterium can only live outside of the body for a few seconds. Therefore, the infection cannot be transmitted through toilet seats or other objects such as towels or clothing.

Gonorrhea Symptoms

Most patients develop symptoms of gonorrhea one to 10 days after the bacterium enters the body. Some patients may be infected for months before symptoms develop. More than 50% of females with gonorrhea do not experience any symptoms.

Common symptoms of gonorrhea include thick or bloody discharge from the penis or vagina, pain or burning sensation during urination, frequent urination, and pain during sexual intercourse.

Anorectal gonorrhea may develop in males or females after anal intercourse with an infected person. In some cases, the infection may spread from the genitals to the anus. Anorectal gonorrhea may cause some discomfort in and discharge from the anal area, but many patients do not experience any symptoms.

Oral sex can cause pharyngeal gonorrhea. Symptoms of pharyngeal gonorrhea commonly include pain when swallowing and redness of the throat and tonsils.

If a patient touches an eye after touching bodily fluids that contain the bacteria, it may cause pinkeye (conjunctivitis). Symptoms may include reddening and inflammation of the eye(s).

Newborns with gonorrhea may develop permanent blindness and infection of the joints and blood.

Complications from Gonorrhea

In females, untreated gonorrhea may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This is an infection of the fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix. If left untreated, PID may cause permanent damage to the reproductive tract, which may lead to infertility. It may also lead to long-term pelvic pain.

Males with untreated gonorrhea may develop a condition called epididymitis. This condition is characterized by inflammation of the tubes near the testicles that carry semen. Symptoms may include fever, scrotal pain, and swelling.

In rare cases, Neisseria gonorrhoeae may enter the bloodstream and infect other parts of the body, such as the skin, joints, or internal organs. Symptoms may include fever, swelling, joint pain and stiffness, rash, and skin sores.

Gonorrhea Diagnosis

Patients should talk to their healthcare providers to determine how often they should be tested for gonorrhea. Patients who have symptoms of gonorrhea or suspect they may have been exposed to gonorrhea should be tested.

The standard diagnostic test for gonorrhea is a culture swab. A lab test is the best way to confirm if you have chlamydia.  . For females, the healthcare provider may swab the discharge from the cervix, use urine analysis, throat swab or anal swab. For males, the healthcare provider may  inserts a thin swab into the tip of the penis to retrieve a sample of fluid from the urethra or swab the anus,  or swab the throat or performed a urine analysis The sample is then rubbed on a petri dish. If the patient has chlamydia, Chlamydia trachomatis will grow on the petri dish.

Gonorrhea Treatment

Gonorrhea is curable. Patients typically take antibiotics, such as ceftriaxone or cefixime.

Babies with gonorrhea also receive antibiotics. In addition, medication, such as silver nitrate, is usually applied to the baby's eyes immediately after birth. This has been shown to help prevent the infection from spreading into the eyes.

Even if symptoms go away, medications should not be stopped early because the bacteria may still be present in the body. If the medication is stopped too early, the remaining bacteria in the body may mutate and become resistant to treatment. Once the bacterium is resistant to a medication, the antibiotic is no longer effective.

Gonorrhea Resources

Stanford Medicine Resources:

Footer Links: