Gonorrhea

Definition

Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Causes

Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae , which is transmitted during vaginal, oral, or anal sexual intercourse.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors include:

  • Multiple sex partners
  • Age: 15-29
  • Sexual intercourse with a partner who has a history of any STD
  • Having sex without a condom
  • History of having a sexually transmitted disease

Symptoms

Symptoms of gonorrhea range from absent to severe. If symptoms develop, they usually appear within 2-10 days after sexual contact with an infected partner. However, in some cases, symptoms do not occur for up to a month after exposure.

People with gonorrhea may experience some, all, or none of the following symptoms:

Men

  • Discharge from the penis
  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Tender or swollen testicles

Women

  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding

Men and Women

  • Anal itching
  • Soreness
  • Bleeding
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Eye infections
  • Blood infections

Diagnosis

Three tests are commonly used to diagnose gonorrhea:

Gram stain—A smear of the discharge from the penis or cervix is placed on a slide and stained with a dye. A doctor examines it under a microscope for the presence of bacteria. This test is more accurate for men than women.

Nucleic acid probe test—Discharge or urine is tested for substances called nucleic acids that specifically identify gonorrhea.

Laboratory analysis—A smear of the discharge is taken and sent to the lab for culture. After two days, the culture is checked for growth of the bacteria that causes gonorrhea.

Treatment

If you have gonorrhea, your doctor may prescribe one of the following antibiotics:

  • Ceftriaxone
  • Cefixime
  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Ofloxacin
  • Levofloxacin

It is important to take all of the medication as prescribed. All of your sexual partners should be tested and treated.

If Gonorrhea Is Left Untreated

If gonorrhea is not treated, the consequences can be serious for both men and women, and can affect the following areas:

In Men

  • Testicles—Gonorrhea may cause epididymitis , a painful condition of the testicles that may lead to infertility.
  • Prostate—The prostate may be affected if gonorrhea is left untreated.
  • Urethra—Gonorrhea can cause scarring on the inside of the urethra, which can create difficulty while urinating.

In Women

Reproductive organs—Gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) , a serious infection that can affect fertility. PID causes scar tissue to form in the fallopian tubes.

Female Reproductive System Organs

Female Reproductive Organs

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Prevention

The most effective way to prevent gonorrhea is sexual abstinence. Other preventive measures include:

  • Always use latex condoms during sexual activity.
  • Have sex with only one partner (who has sex only with you).
  • Have regular checkups for sexually transmitted diseases.

Use of other barrier methods of contraception, such as a diaphragm, may also partially prevent gonorrhea.

RESOURCES:

National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention
Division of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
http://www.cdc.gov/std

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID)
http://www.niaid.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Communicable Disease Control (CDC) Unit
http://www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/cdc/index.html

Sex Information and Education Council of Canada
http://www.sieccan.org

References:

Gonococcal infections. In : Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine , 17th ed. McGraw Hill; 2000.

Gonorrhea. Medline Plus website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/gonorrhea.html .

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH) website. Available at: http://www.niaid.nih.gov .



Last reviewed October 2007 by David Horn, MD, FACP

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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