What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection that affects men, women, children, and infants. An estimated 1 million cases of gonorrhea are reported each year while at least as many are unreported.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may appear two days to three weeks after a woman has been exposed to the infection. Some women will not have symptoms at all until the disease has caused severe health problems. Symptoms may include:

  • Vaginal discharge
  • Painful urination
  • Lower abdominal pain

How is gonorrhea transmitted?

Gonorrhea infections are spread during vaginal, oral, or anal sexual contact. In addition, babies can get gonorrhea during birth from an infected mother.

Can gonorrhea infections be dangerous?

Yes. Even if symptoms are not present, gonorrhea infections can create serious health problems. If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a painful infection of the uterus, tubes, ovaries, and pelvic area.
  • Permanent damage to the reproductive organs, causing chronic pain and infertility (difficulty in becoming pregnant).
  • Sterility (inability to have children)
  • Ectopic or tubal pregnancy - A serious condition which can cause maternal death.
  • Arthritis (painful swelling in joints)

How is gonorrhea diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made by swabbing the cervix or testing urine. Test results are available after several days. This test can be done even when there are no symptoms.

How is gonorrhea treated?

Although gonorrhea can be serious if left untreated, it can be cured with certain antibiotics. It is important to complete all the medication as directed in order to ensure successful treatment. Unfortunately antibiotic treatment cannot reverse complications already caused by infection.

How can I prevent a gonorrhea infection?

Guidelines for preventing gonorrhea infections are the same as for preventing other sexually transmitted diseases:

  • The best defense against gonorrhea is not having sex with anyone (abstinence) or having sex only with one non-infected partner who has sex only with you.
  • Use protection during sexual activity. Condoms,used properly from start to finish for each sexual contact, are the best protection. Spermicidal foams and jellies, and diaphragms are less reliable and should be used along with condoms, not in place of them.
  • If you suspect that you have been exposed to gonorrhea, see a qualified health provider right away. Be sure your partner(s) get treated.Do not have sex until your provider tells you it is safe. Otherwise, partners can re-infect each other.
  • If your provider advises you to return for a test of cure, be sure to do so.Occasionally the bacteria are resistant and the infection must be treated with a different medication.

Source: University of South Carolina Student Health Services