Gonorrhea symptoms and treatment

Casually referred to as "the clap," gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Like other bacteria, N. gonorrhoeae multiply quickly in warm, moist areas like the anus, vagina, urethra, reproductive tract, mouth, throat, and eyes. It can be contracted through any form of intercourse -- oral, anal, or vaginal -- and can be passed from mother to baby during childbirth (most often presenting in the eyes as ophthalmia neonatorum).

Though easily treated with antibiotics, gonorrhea can present serious problems if left untreated, including pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility in women, scarring of the urethra or epididymitis in men, and joint infections, meningitis, or heart valve infections in both.

Gonorrhea Symptoms

Gonorrhea usually produces symptoms within 5 days after infection, but some men may not experience symptoms for up to 1 month, and almost half of women don't experience symptoms at all.

When they are present, symptoms include:

  • a burning sensation during urination
  • more frequent urination
  • discharge from the penis or vagina
  • sore throat (especially in cases of oral gonorrhea)

If the infection spreads to the fallopian tubes in women, they may experience fever, severe abdominal pain, or pain during sexual intercourse.

Men may also experience redness or swelling at the opening of the penis and/or tender or swollen testicles.

Because symptoms may not occur immediately, or at all, screening and prevention are important. Maintaining a monogamous relationship with someone who's sexual history is known, using condoms during any type of intercourse, and getting tested for STDs regularly or before starting a new sexual relationship are essential to maintaining sexual health.

Gonorrhea Treatment

Treatment for gonorrhea is usually as simple as a course of antibiotics, generally administered orally but possibly given intravenously. Antibiotic resistance, however, is becoming more common, so only certain antibiotics can be used as a cure for gonorrhea.

Gonorrhea should be treated as soon as possible to prevent complications and contagion. Those infected with gonorrhea should refrain from sexual activity until a follow-up visit confirms the infection has cleared. They should also be screened for other STDs, as coincidental infections are common. In fact, around 30 percent of women diagnosed with gonorrhea also have chlamydia.

People infected with gonorrhea also need to contact all of their previous sexual partners to ensure that they are tested for the disease. They may not always experience symptoms, and they could spread the disease to others. Also, they could experience serious, long-term side effects if the disease is not treated.

Even if the infection has spread, prognosis is good with the proper treatment.