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Condition Basics

What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is an infection that is spread through sexual contact. It most often infects the reproductive organs. Gonorrhea doesn't cause problems if you treat it right away. But if you don't treat it early, it can lead to serious problems.

What causes it?

Gonorrhea is caused by a type of bacteria. It can be spread during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If you're pregnant and infected, you can pass it to your baby during delivery. Anyone who has gonorrhea can pass it on, even if they don't have symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

Many people have no symptoms of gonorrhea. If there are symptoms, they can take several days to appear. Or it may take several weeks. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain when you urinate.
  • Abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina.

If it isn't treated, the infection can move into the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. This is called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Symptoms can include lower belly pain, pain during sex, vaginal bleeding, and a fever.

You can spread gonorrhea even if you don't have symptoms. You're contagious until you've been treated.

How is it diagnosed?

To diagnose gonorrhea, your doctor will ask you questions about your past health and your sexual history, such as how many partners you have. Your doctor may also do a physical exam to look for signs of infection.

Urine or fluid from the infected area will be tested for gonorrhea. You may also be tested for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at the same time.

As soon as you find out that you have gonorrhea, be sure to let your sex partner or partners know. Experts recommend that you tell everyone you've had sex with in the past 60 days. If you haven't had sex in the past 60 days, contact the last person you had sex with.

How is gonorrhea treated?

Antibiotics are used to treat gonorrhea. Early treatment helps prevent the spread of the infection. It also lowers your risk for other problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease.

You and your sex partners need to take the antibiotics. If only one person takes the medicine, you may keep passing the infection back and forth.

To make sure that the medicine works, you need to take all of the medicine as directed. You also need to avoid all sexual contact while taking the medicine. If your treatment is a single dose of medicine, do not have any sexual contact for 7 days after treatment. The medicine needs time to work.

How can you prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

Here are some ways to help prevent STIs.

  • Limit your sex partners. Sex with one partner who has sex only with you can reduce your risk of getting an STI.
  • Talk with your partner or partners about STIs before you have sex. Find out if they are at risk for an STI. Remember that it's possible to have an STI and not know it.
  • Wait to have sex with new partners until you've each been tested.
  • Don't have sex if you have symptoms of an infection or if you are being treated for an STI.
  • Use a condom every time you have sex. Condoms are the only form of birth control that also helps prevent STIs.
  • If you had sex without a condom, ask your doctor if taking a preventive medicine is recommended. It may help prevent certain STIs if it's taken within 24 to 72 hours after unprotected sex.
  • Don't share sex toys. But if you do share them, use a condom and clean the sex toys between each use.

Vaccines are available for some STIs, such as HPV. Ask your doctor for more information.


Current as of: November 27, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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