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What Is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by bacteria. It usually affects the sex organs but may also occur in other parts of the body, such as the eyes, throat, and joints.

Untreated gonorrhea can lead to serious problems, including pharyngitis, tonsillitis, severe arthritis, and bloodstream infection. In women, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and can be passed from pregnant women to their babies during birth. In men, it can cause infections called urethritis and epididymitis. Urethritis is inflammation (swelling, redness) of the urethra, the tube that carries urine and semen through the penis. Epididymitis is inflammation or infection of the epididymis, a long tube above and behind each testicle.

More than half a million people in the United States get gonorrhea every year.

What Causes Gonorrhea?

The cause is a type of bacteria named Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It spreads very easily by having sex with an infected person.

What Are the Symptoms of Gonorrhea?

Most men have symptoms when first infected, but many women may have very mild or no symptoms. They often don’t know that they have gonorrhea until they have other problems. Symptoms in men usually start within 2 weeks after exposure. They include creamy green-yellow discharge from the penis, pain when urinating, and painful and swollen testicles. Symptoms in women include pain or burning when urinating, yellow or green vaginal discharge that can be bloody, bleeding between periods, and pain during sex. Other symptoms may include sore throat, low-grade fever; tender lower abdomen (belly); pain in knees, ankles, or elbows; and a rash on the palms of the hands.

How Is Gonorrhea Diagnosed?

For diagnosis, the health care provider asks about symptoms and sexual activity and examines the sexual organs, including the pelvic area for women. Blood and urine tests and tests for STDs will be done. Tests for bacterial genes (DNA) can be done from a urine sample. A sample of discharge from the penis or cervix may be taken and sent to a laboratory for study. Throat, rectum, or eye discharges may also be tested.

How Is Gonorrhea Treated?

Treatment with antibiotics cures gonorrhea in 1 to 2 weeks. The antibiotic is either given by injection or taken by mouth. Uncomplicated gonorrhea is usually treated with one dose of antibiotics.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Gonorrhea:

  • DO practice safe sex. Use condoms if you think that there’s any chance of catching an STD.
  • DO get treatment as soon as possible.
  • DO make sure your sexual partner visits a health care provider to check for infection.
  • DO realize that gonorrhea is often diagnosed with other STDs. Your health care provider will also test you for other STDs.
  • DO wash hands thoroughly and often after using the bathroom.
  • DO use sitz baths for discomfort.
  • DO remember that follow-up cultures should be done.
  • DO call your health care provider if you get fever, chills, and abdominal pain after treatment starts.
  • DO call your health care provider if you were told that a sexual contact has gonorrhea.
  • DON’T have unprotected sex until you finish treatment, are tested again, and your health care provider says that you can. This is important to avoid spreading the infection.

Contact the following sources:

  • Infectious Diseases Society of America
    Tel: (703) 299-0200
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Tel: (404) 639-3534

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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