Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted infection that can affect both men and women. Approximately 700,000 people are infected with gonorrhea every year in the United States.
Gonorrhea is caused by bacteria. The infection is passed from person to person during intercourse. The bacteria can enter the body through an opening, such as the mouth, vagina, penis, or rectum. A man does not have to ejaculate to spread the infection. You cannot become infected with gonorrhea by touching objects, like a toilet seat.
In women, the infection usually starts in the cervix, (the opening of the uterus inside the vagina). Women can develop infection in the urethra, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. If gonorrhea spreads from the cervix to the uterus and fallopian tubes, women can develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can scar the fallopian tubes and lead to infertility and an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy (when a pregnancy develops in the fallopian tube).
The bacteria may also infect the throat or rectum after oral or anal sex.
A baby can be infected during childbirth if the mother has gonorrhea. When the baby passes through the birth canal, the bacteria can get into and infect the baby’s eyes.
Symptoms of gonorrhea depend on where the infection is and whether you are male or female. However, some people have no symptoms at all. This means that gonorrhea can spread from person to person before it is diagnosed.
In women, symptoms of gonorrhea can include vaginal spotting or bleeding, vaginal itching, abnormal discharge from the vagina, and pain or burning with urination. Infection of the throat or mouth can cause a sore throat, but gonorrhea usually causes no symptoms at all.
Gonorrhea has potentially serious consequences if it is not treated, but this infection can be cured with antibiotics.
Other infections can cause symptoms similar to gonorrhea. Testing for gonorrhea is done in a doctor's or nurse's office with a sample of urine or with a swab of the cervix. Results are usually available within 24 – 48 hours.
The most effective way to prevent gonorrhea is to avoid sexual intercourse. Because this is not practical for most people, the following tips are recommended:
Your healthcare provider is the best source of information for questions and concerns related to your medical problem.
You can also visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/default.htm