Gonorrhea: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It’s caused by infection with the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It tends to infect warm, moist areas of the body, including the:

  • urethra (the tube that drains urine from the urinary bladder)
  • eyes
  • throat
  • vagina
  • anus
  • female reproductive tract (the fallopian tubes, cervix, and uterus)

Gonorrhea passes from person to person through unprotected oral, anal, or vaginal sex. People with numerous sexual partners or those who don’t use a condom are at greatest risk of infection. The best protections against infection are abstinence, monogamy (sex with only one partner), and proper condom usage. Behaviors that make a person more likely to engage in unprotected sex also increase the likelihood of infection. These behaviors include alcohol abuse and illegal drug abuse, particularly intravenous drug use.

Symptoms of gonorrhea

Symptoms usually occur within two to 14 days after exposure. However, some people infected with gonorrhea never develop noticeable symptoms. It’s important to remember that a person with gonorrhea who doesn’t have symptoms, also called a nonsymptomatic carrier, is still contagious. A person is more likely to spread the infection to other partners when they don’t have noticeable symptoms.

Symptoms in men

Men may not develop noticeable symptoms for several weeks. Some men may never develop symptoms.

Typically, the infection begins to show symptoms a week after its transmission. The first noticeable symptom in men is often a burning or painful sensation during urination. As it progresses, other symptoms may include:

  • greater frequency or urgency of urination
  • a pus-like discharge (or drip) from the penis (white, yellow, beige, or greenish)
  • swelling or redness at the opening of the penis
  • swelling or pain in the testicles
  • a persistent sore throat

The infection will stay in the body for a few weeks after the symptoms have been treated. In rare instances, gonorrhea can continue to cause damage to the body, specifically the urethra and testicles. Pain may also spread to the rectum.

Symptoms in women

Many women don’t develop any overt symptoms of gonorrhea. When women do develop symptoms, they tend to be mild or similar to other infections, making them more difficult to identify. Gonorrhea infections can appear much like common vaginal yeast or bacterial infections.

Symptoms include:

  • discharge from the vagina (watery, creamy, or slightly green)
  • pain or burning sensation while urinating
  • the need to urinate more frequently
  • heavier periods or spotting
  • sore throat
  • pain upon engaging in sexual intercourse
  • sharp pain in the lower abdomen
  • fever

Treatment of gonorrhea

Modern antibiotics can cure most gonorrhea infections. Most states also provide free diagnosis and treatment at state-sponsored health clinics.

At home and over-the-counter remedies

There are no at-home remedies or over-the-counter medications that will treat an infection with gonorrhea. If you suspect that you have gonorrhea, you should seek care from a healthcare professional.

Antibiotics

Gonorrhea is usually treated with an antibiotic injection of Ceftriaxone one time to the buttocks or a single dose of Azithromycin by mouth. Once on antibiotics, you should feel relief within days.

The law requires healthcare professionals to report the infection, usually to the county public health department. Public health officials will identify, contact, test, and treat any sexual partners of the affected person to help prevent the spread of the infection. Health officials will also contact other people these individuals may have had sexual contact with.

The emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea is a growing challenge. These cases may require more extensive treatment, with a seven-day course of an oral antibiotic or dual therapy with two different antibiotics, usually for a total of seven days of therapy. The antibiotics used for extended therapy are usually given once or twice a day. Some common antibiotics used include azithromycin and doxycycline. Scientists are working to develop vaccines to prevent gonorrhea infection.

Categories: Reproductive health

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