What is gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea, a bacterial infection, is also called “the clap” or “drip.” It’s a common sexually transmitted disease (STD). You can get gonorrhea by having sex with a person infected with it.
A person can get gonorrhea after a rape. If you have experienced rape or sexual assault, go to an emergency room or call your healthcare provider. Or call the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
Who gets gonorrhea?
Sexually active people of any age or gender can get gonorrhea. It spreads easily. Gonorrhea occurs most often in people who have many sex partners and those who don’t use condoms. You may not have any gonorrhea symptoms, so you can spread gonorrhea without knowing it.
How common is gonorrhea?
Around 1.14 million new gonorrhea infections occur in the United States every year. About half of the infections occur in people ages 15 to 24.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection. You can get infected when the bacteria enter your body through the penis, anus, vagina or mouth, often during unprotected sex. You can also get or pass gonorrhea through sharing sex toys that haven’t been washed or covered with a new condom. If a pregnant woman has gonorrhea, she can pass it to her baby during birth.
In women, the most common site of infection is the cervix. The cervix is the opening from the vagina to the uterus (womb).
In men, the infection tends to start in the urethra, the tube that helps urine exit the body.
Is gonorrhea contagious?
Gonorrhea is contagious and spreads easily during sexual activity.
However, you can’t spread gonorrhea through casual touching, such as kissing or hugging. You also won’t spread it through sharing bathrooms or plates and cutlery.
What are symptoms of gonorrhea in women?
Women may not have any gonorrhea symptoms. When symptoms are present, they may include:
- Unusual vaginal discharge (white or yellow).
- Pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis.
- Pain or burning when peeing.
- Bleeding between periods.
- Throat infection and pain (when infected due to oral sex).
What are symptoms of gonorrhea in men?
In men, symptoms include:
- White or yellow discharge from the penis.
- Pain or burning (possibly severe) when peeing.
- Throat infection and pain.
Diagnosis and Tests
How do I know if I have gonorrhea?
You may or may not have symptoms of gonorrhea. If you had sex without using a condom, you might be concerned you have an infection, even if you don’t have symptoms.
If you think you have gonorrhea or any STD, contact your healthcare provider. They’ll examine you and perform any necessary tests to figure out if you have an STD.
How is gonorrhea diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your symptoms and sexual history. A urine test can often diagnose gonorrhea.
During the physical exam, your provider may:
- Perform a pelvic exam, taking a sample of fluid from the cervix to test.
- Take a sample of fluid from the penis.
- Do a throat or anal culture to see if the infection is in those areas.
Your provider will discuss which testing method is best in your situation. You may need to wait a few days for test results to come back from the lab. You may also have chlamydia, another STD. These two infections often occur together. Your provider may test you for both.
Management and Treatment
How is gonorrhea treated?
You’ll need antibiotics to treat gonorrhea. Your provider will tell you if you need the medicine via a shot or by mouth. IM Ceftriaxone and oral azithromycin are prescribed first. Make sure to take your medication as instructed, even if the symptoms improve and you start to feel better.
Never take someone else’s medication to treat your illness. Doing so makes the infection harder to treat.
Does my partner need gonorrhea treatment also?
Yes, your partner is most likely infected, too, so you both need treatment.
What else should I do if I have gonorrhea?
To stay safe and keep your sex partner or partners safe, you should:
- Tell anyone you had sex with in the last three months that you have gonorrhea. It’s important to do this because gonorrhea may not cause any symptoms. Women especially may not have symptoms and won’t know to get tested and treated.
- Wait a week after you finish your medication before resuming your sex life.
- Use condoms and dental dams when you have sex.
- Get tested for HIV (AIDS) and other STDs (syphilis, herpes, chlamydia).
Can gonorrhea be cured?
Prompt treatment can cure gonorrhea. Take the medication as your provider instructs.
How can I prevent gonorrhea?
The only way to definitely avoid gonorrhea and other STDs is to not have sex (vaginal, oral or anal).
If you are sexually active, you can take steps to protect yourself from gonorrhea:
- Don’t have sex with someone you know is infected.
- Always use a condom or dental dam during sex.
- In addition to a condom, use a spermicide containing nonoxynol-9.
- Limit sexual partners and get tested.
Outlook / Prognosis
What is the outlook for people with gonorrhea?
People who get prompt treatment and follow their treatment instructions carefully can return to normal activity. However, untreated gonorrhea can lead to health complications and even death.
Can gonorrhea be cured?
Yes, treatment can cure gonorrhea. However, this disease is starting to become resistant to antibiotics, making it harder to treat. It’s more important than ever to prevent infection.
What happens if gonorrhea is not treated?
Untreated gonorrhea can cause several long-term health problems.
In women, untreated gonorrhea can:
- Spread to other reproductive organs, including the uterus and fallopian tubes, and cause pelvic inflammatory disease. PID can cause infertility and tubal pregnancies, which can be life-threatening to the mother and the baby.
- Cause eye problems in infants born to untreated mothers, leading to blindness.
- Spread to other parts of the body, causing swollen and painful joints, liver inflammation, and heart valve and brain damage.
In men, untreated gonorrhea can cause:
- Scars in the urethra.
- Inflammation of the testicles.
- Prostate pain and inflammation.
- Other problems if it spreads throughout the body, including swollen and painful joints, liver inflammation, and heart valve and brain damage.
Can I get gonorrhea again?
Yes. Repeat gonorrhea infections are common in people who don’t carefully protect themselves.
What happens if I got gonorrhea, and I’m pregnant?
Talk to your healthcare provider. You can pass the infection to your baby during delivery, which can cause health problems for the baby, including blindness. Your provider will help you get the right testing and treatment to keep you and your baby safe.
When can I have sex after gonorrhea treatment?
Your healthcare provider will give you instructions about when you can resume your sex life. Typically, you need to wait at least a week after finishing all your medications before having sex.
How can I take care of myself?
If you are sexually active, consider regular STD testing. Since many STDs, including gonorrhea, don’t cause symptoms, you could carry and pass the infection without knowing it. Talk to your healthcare provider about yearly STD and gonorrhea testing if you are sexually active.
What else should I ask my healthcare provider?
If you have gonorrhea, ask your healthcare provider:
- What medication is best for me?
- How long do I need to take the medication?
- When can I resume having sex?
- How can I avoid getting gonorrhea again?
- What else do I need to know to stay safe?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Gonorrhea is a common STD. Gonorrhea symptoms include pain and discharge from the penis or vagina. However, many people do not have symptoms. If you think you have gonorrhea, or you had unprotected sex, talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested. With prompt treatment, usually antibiotics, you can cure gonorrhea and prevent long-term health problems. The best way to avoid gonorrhea is to use a condom or dental dam during any sexual activity.