Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease or infection, that is exchanged and shared during sexual activity or intimate times. Both men and women can contract this disease and are affected in different ways but is treatable with antibiotics. If you ignore the symptoms of this infection and do not get treated, you can develop long-term health problems. Gonorrhea causes infection and issue in the genitals, throat, and rectum. The longer gonorrhea is left untreated, the more likely the chance that you will run into trouble with a more antibiotic-resistant strain. These strains are still possible to treat but require a much more rigorous treatment plan.
How do I know if I have gonorrhea?
There are different symptoms to pay attention to if you think you have been exposed to this sexually transmitted infection. For men, watch for:
- burning sensations while urinating or after urinating
- A white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis, with or without foul odor
- Painful or swollen testicles is a rarer, but possible condition
Women with gonorrhea have different symptoms, which are often milder than a male will see. Symptoms for women may mimic urinary tract or vaginal infections. Women are at risk for developing serious complications because this infection is often mistaken and treated less invasively as a UTI. Symptoms for women include:
- Increased vaginal discharge of any color
- Painful burning sensation when urinating
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting in between regular periods
Rectal infections may cause symptoms in both men and women that include:
- Anal itching
- Painful bowel movement
If you notice any of these symptoms or know you have been exposed to gonorrhea, consult with your doctor without delay to begin the regimen to clear the STD and prevent any long-term health effects.
Am I at risk of getting gonorrhea?
If you are a sexually active person that engages in any type of intercourse, foreplay, or sharing of bodily fluids, then yes, you are at risk. This risk holds true for any unprotected sex involving the penis, vaginal, anus, or mouth. If you are sexually active, be open and honest with your doctor to find out how often they recommend you be tested for sexually transmitted infections and other STDs. If you are gay, bisexual, or someone who has sex with someone who is, you should be tested every year. If you are a sexually active woman under twenty-five or an older woman with multiple sex partners, you should also be tested yearly. In almost all cases, it is better to be safer than sorry and get tested at any time you think you have been exposed.
For women, gonorrhea means…
If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause serious damage to the cervix, fallopian tubes, uterus, and abdominal organs and tissue. This can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, and can permanently damage the reproductive system and lead to infertility. PID is also treated with antibiotics. Putting off treatment for this sexually transmitted infection means that you could have a build up of scar tissue in your fallopian tubes, which raises your risk for chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies can be dangerous as they can rupture causing further damage and infection to the female reproductive system.
For men, gonorrhea means…
Epididymitis is the main issue for men dealing with gonorrhea and this causes inflammation around the tubes of the testicles that carry semen. Symptoms with this condition include pain and swelling of the testicles, with a high fever. Epididymitis can be treated with antibiotics and your symptoms may appear to diminish before you finish your round of medications. Be sure to finish all of the medication! There may be a lingering pain or slight tenderness in your testicles for some time after the infection has passed. Applying ice packs and wearing athletic supporters may help ease the pain and tension.
What are other complications men and women can face when dealing with gonorrhea?
If gonorrhea is left untreated or is unknown about for too long, the infection will spread to other parts of your body via the bacteria in your bloodstream. It can infect your skin, joints, and all other organs. Symptoms that your gonorrhea could be spreading are joint pain, swelling, fever, skin rashes, and sores. This can happen anywhere on the body at any time when infected.
As a woman, having gonorrhea and giving birth can put your baby at risk for complications. The baby’s eyes are susceptible and alerting your delivery team about your gonorrhea diagnosis is vital to your child’s sight. Immediately after delivery, the nurse can place antibiotic eye drops on their eyes to prevent gonorrhea from spreading into their bodies. In some cases, gonorrhea is passed through the amniotic fluid, and sores are present at birth.
Gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted infections have been linked to certain types of cancer and pre-cancer cells in the genitals, stomach, lungs, rectum, and abdomen in many cases. 25% of women who have had gonorrhea in their lifetime face a much higher risk for developing cervical cancer in the future (NIH). With the new links to STIs and STDs with cancer, it is always best to keep your sexual health at the forefront of your life. Being treated for gonorrhea as soon as you suspect you have been exposed could save many years of turmoil and rigorous treatments.
I just finished my treatment for gonorrhea. When can I be with my partner again intimately?
Wait at least seven days after taking all of the medications prescribed for your gonorrhea. To avoid the infection from rebounding and spreading between you and your partner over and over, you should both avoid having any sexual contact until treatment is complete. If you have had gonorrhea in the past, you can still get it at any time in the future with any new exposure. Treatment for gonorrhea does not ensure you will never get this sexually transmitted infection again. This depends on your use of protection and safe sex devices during your sexual activity.
If you suspect you have been exposed to gonorrhea or another sexually transmitted infection, do not wait to seek testing and begin treatment with your doctor, or at your local health department or clinic. Many of these places offer free testing and guidance on treatment with privacy and can help with the cost. To be directed to one of these locations in your area, contact the CDC using the information below.