Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease, or STD, caused by bacterial infection. The bacteria is passed from person to person through sexual activity. The gonorrhea bacteria develops and thrives in the warm moist areas of the reproductive organs, including the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes in women and the urethra in men. If left untreated, the gonorrhea infection can spread to other parts of the body including:

  • Joints
  • Throat
  • Eyes

Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, and it is especially prevalent among sexually active teenagers and young adults. Left untreated, gonorrhea can cause serious complications.

Symptoms of Gonorrhea

Some patients with gonorrhea do not experience any symptoms from this condition, and may not even know that they are infected. If symptoms are present, they usually appear 1 to 14 days after exposure to the infection. Symptoms may differ in women and men.

In women, symptoms are usually mild and may resemble a urinary tract infection, with additional symptoms such as:

  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Yellow vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Swollen glands in the throat

Men with gonorrhea may experience:

  • Discharge or pain in the penis
  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Pain or swelling in the testicles
  • Scrotal pain
  • Epididymitis
  • Swollen glands in the throat

Diagnosis of Gonorrhea

A doctor can diagnose gonorrhea by performing a physical examination and conducting the following tests:

  • Specimen sample from the vagina, cervix, anus or throat
  • Gonorrhea culture of swabbed specimens
  • Urinalysis which identifies the bacteria in the urethra

During testing, patients may be screened for other STDs as well, since exposure to gonorrhea increases the risk for developing other sexually transmitted diseases.

Treatment of Gonorrhea

Most cases of gonorrhea can be successfully cured with either oral or injected antibiotics. Due to an increase in the number of drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea, it is recommended that two distinct antibiotics be used in the treatment of the infection. In order to ensure the most successful treatment, it is important for patients to take all of the medication prescribed by their doctor, even if symptoms appear to subside.

For women, the doctor may combine medication to treat for both gonorrhea and chlamydia. It has been found that more than half of the women infected with gonorrhea are infected with chlamydia. Sexual partners of infected patients should be tested and treated for gonorrhea as well, even if no symptoms are present. This reduce the risk of re-infection for the patient and their partner. It is important to avoid sexual relations until completion of the treatment for gonorrhea.

Complications of Gonorrhea

If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to serious health problems and permanent damage. In rare cases, it can spread through the blood to the joints, causing inflammation and serious damage. In women, gonorrhea may cause abdominal pain, fever, and the following conditions to develop:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Infertility
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Ectopic pregnancy

If a pregnant woman has gonorrhea, she may pass the infection to her baby as the baby passes through the birth canal during delivery. This can cause serious health problems for the baby.

In men, gonorrhea may cause the development of the following medical conditions:

  • Epididymitis
  • Infertility
  • Urethral stricture

Gonorrhea also puts all patients at an increased risk for contracting HIV. Left untreated, gonorrhea can spread to the blood or joints causing serious, life-threatening conditions. It is important for patients to see their doctor at the first sign of gonorrhea or any other STD.

Prevention of Gonorrhea

There are several recommendations to reduce the risk of developing gonorrhea. Effective ways to prevent gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases may include:

  • Abstaining from sexual intercourse
  • Maintaining a long-term, monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner
  • Using latex condoms for all sexual relations
  • Getting tested regularly for the disease

Reducing the risk of gonorrhea and detecting the infection as early as possible ensures the most effective treatment. While a diagnosis of gonorrhea may be upsetting, treatment options are available to cure this disease in the early stages. Prompt treatment allows patients to engage in normal activities, including an active and healthy sex life.

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