Gonorrhea: Prevention, Symptoms and Treatment

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Gonorrhoeae bacteria

Anyone who is sexually active can get gonorrhea. Gonorrhea can cause very serious complications when not treated but can be cured with the right medication.

What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It’s caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It tends to target warm, moist areas of the body, including the:

  • urethra (the tube that drains urine from the bladder)
  • eyes
  • throat
  • vagina
  • anus
  • female reproductive tract (the fallopian tubes, cervix, and uterus)

You can get gonorrhea by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has gonorrhea. A pregnant woman with gonorrhea can give the infection to her baby during childbirth. You can get gonorrhea by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has gonorrhea. A pregnant woman with gonorrhea can give the infection to her baby during childbirth.

Symptoms of Gonorrhea

Symptoms of gonorrhea usually develop within about 2 weeks of being infected, although they sometimes do not appear until many months later. About 1 in 10 infected men and 5 in 10 infected women will not experience any obvious symptoms, which means the condition can go untreated for some time.

Gonorrhea symptoms in men

In men, symptoms of gonorrhea can include:

  • An unusual discharge from the tip of the penis, which may be white, yellow, or green
  • Pain or a burning sensation when urinating
  • Inflammation (swelling) of the foreskin
  • Pain or tenderness in the testicles – this is rare
  • A persistent sore throat

In some rare cases, gonorrhea can cause damage to the body, specifically the urethra and testicles. The condition will stay in the body for a few weeks after the symptoms have been treated.
Pain may also spread to the rectum.

Gonorrhea symptoms in women

Women don’t develop any overt symptoms of gonorrhea. When they do develop symptoms, they tend to be mild or similar to other diagnoses, making them more difficult to identify.

In women, symptoms of gonorrhea can include:

  • An unusual vaginal discharge, which may be thin or watery and green or yellow in color
  • Pain or a burning sensation when passing urine
  • Pain or tenderness in the lower abdominal area – this is less common
  • Bleeding between periods, heavier periods, and bleeding after sex – this is less common
  • Sore throat
  • Fever

Tests for gonorrhea

It’s recommended you get tested if:

  • You or your partner think you have symptoms
  • You’ve had unprotected sex with a new partner
  • You or your partner have had unprotected sex with other people
  • You have another STI
  • A sexual partner tells you they have an STI
  • During a vaginal examination, your nurse or doctor tells you the cells of your cervix are inflamed or there’s discharge
  • You’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy

Healthcare professionals can diagnose gonorrhea in several ways. They can take a sample of fluid from the symptomatic area (penis, vagina, rectum, or throat) with a swab and place it on a glass slide.

Testing in women

Doctors will usually take a swab to collect a sample from the vagina or cervix (entrance to the womb) during an internal examination for women. In some cases, a sample may also be taken from the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body). Women do not usually provide a urine sample to test  because the urine test is less accurate for women.
In some cases, the doctor may ask you to use a swab or tampon to collect a sample from inside your vagina yourself.

Testing in men

Men will normally be asked to provide a urine sample or a swab may be used to pick up a sample of discharge from the end of the penis.

If you provide a urine sample, it’s important not to urinate for about 2 hours beforehand because this can wash the bacteria away and affect the results of the test.

Treatment of gonorrhea

There are no at-home remedies or OTC medications that’ll treat gonorrhea. Anyone who thinks they may have acquired gonorrhea from a partner should seek care from a healthcare professional.

Gonorrhea is treated with a short course of antibiotics if 

  • tests have shown you have gonorrhea
  • there’s a high chance you have gonorrhea, even though your test results have not come back yet
  • your partner has been diagnosed with gonorrhea

In most cases, treatment involves having an antibiotic injection followed by 1 antibiotic tablet. It’s sometimes possible to have another antibiotic tablet instead of an injection if you prefer. If you have any symptoms of gonorrhea, these will usually improve within a few days, although it may take up to 2 weeks for any pain in your pelvis or testicles to disappear completely.

Bleeding between periods or heavy periods should improve by the time of your next period.

You should attend a follow-up appointment a week or two after treatment to test if you’re clear of infection. During treatment, you need to avoid having sex until you have been given the all-clear, to prevent re-infection or passing the infection on to anyone else.

If your symptoms do not improve after treatment, you need to see your doctor. You may need repeat treatment or further tests to check for other problems.

Compilation of gonorrhea

If treated early, gonorrhea is unlikely to lead to any complications or long-term problems. Untreated, the bacteria may ascend up the reproductive tract and involve the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.

Women are at greater risk for long-term complications from an untreated transmission. In women, gonorrhea can spread to the reproductive organs and cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can lead to long-term pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility.

During pregnancy, gonorrhea can cause:

  • Miscarriage
  • Premature labor
  • The baby being born with conjunctivitis

In men, it may also cause a painful abscess to develop in the interior of the penis. This can cause reduced fertility or sterility.

In rare cases, when untreated, it can spread through the bloodstream and cause life-threatening infections in other parts of the body.

Preventing gonorrhea

You can successfully prevent yourself from Gonorrhea and other STIs by using appropriate contraception and taking other precautions, such as:

  • Using male condoms or female condoms every time you have vaginal sex, or male condoms during anal sex;
  • Using a condom to cover the penis or a latex or plastic square (dam) to cover the female genitals if you have oral sex;
  • Not sharing sex toys.

If your partner is showing any symptoms, avoid any sexual contact. Ask them to seek medical attention to rule out any possible conditions that could be passed on.

You’re at a higher risk for acquiring the disease if you’ve already had it or any other STIs. You’re also at a higher risk if you have multiple sexual partners or a new partner.

Where to get tested

There are several different places you can go to be tested:

  • A sexual health clinic
  • Your GP surgery
  • A contraceptive and young people’s clinic
  • A private clinic

You can arrange a clinic visit online at MaNaDr application to see a doctor if you are showing any symptoms.

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