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Gonorrhea Symptoms

Gonorrhea symptoms may vary from person to person and are different for men and women.

A common gonorrhea symptoms in women is severe abdominal pain. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
A common gonorrhea symptoms in women is severe abdominal pain.

Gonorrhea Symptoms

Gonorrhea symptoms vary from person to person and are different for men and women. Gonorrhea, sometimes called the clap, is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium. This bacterium, also known as gonococcus, grows well in moist areas of the body such as the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, urethra, anus, mouth, eyes and throat. It spreads through semen and vaginal fluids during sexual contact.

Gonorrhea is one of the most common STDs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 700,000 people in the United States contract gonorrhea each year. Approximately half of all new gonorrhea cases are reported to the CDC.

All sexually active people are at risk for contracting gonorrhea. However, it is most common among teenagers, young adults and African Americans. Untreated, gonorrhea can lead to serious complications in both males and females. The best way to prevent gonorrhea is through sexual abstinence or practicing safe sex. Once diagnosed, gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics to clear the infection.

Gonorrhea Symptoms Common to Both Genders

Gonorrhea in the genital area can cause burning upon urination and pain with intercourse. Both men and women may also have an unusual discharge from the genitals. Gonorrhea symptoms in the rectum are the same for both genders and may include bleeding, discharge, itching and pain when passing stool. A throat infected with gonorrhea may be sore or tender, but more often causes no symptoms.

Regardless of where the infection occurs, gonorrhea sometimes does not cause any noticeable symptoms, especially in women. The average incubation period (the time between exposure and the showing of symptoms) is typically two to five days; however, it may take up to 30 days for symptoms to appear.

Gonorrhea Symptoms for Men

Gonorrhea in males is typically a pus-forming infection of the mucous membranes of the urethra. The most common symptom is a discharge from the penis that ranges from clear to cloudy white in color. The discharge may also have a foul odor.

Men may also experience pain or swelling in their testicles or penis. Some men, however, are asymptomatic, meaning they do not experience any symptoms. Although it is less common for men to be asymptomatic than it is for women, it does happen in some cases.

Gonorrhea Symptoms for Women

The most common form of gonorrhea in women is an endocervical infection. Approximately half of patients with endocervical infections are asymptomatic. Women who do show symptoms of gonorrhea may experience bleeding between periods and increased vaginal discharge. The discharge is either clear or milky and can be yellow or green in color. Women may also experience abdominal pain and cramping.

Complications of Gonorrhea

Untreated gonorrhea can cause additional health problems for both men and women. The gonorrhea bacteria can travel into the bloodstream or affect the joints, creating a life-threatening condition. In addition, those infected with gonorrhea have an increased risk of contracting and spreading HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In males, if left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to a condition called epididymitis. This condition infects the rear portion of the testicles where the sperm ducts are located, causing pain and swelling. According to the Mayo Clinic, epididymitis is most common in males between 19 and 35 years old. Although epididymitis is treatable with antibiotics, it can cause infertility if left untreated.

Untreated in women, gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This serious disease infects the reproductive organs, including the uterus and fallopian tubes. PID can lead to internal abscesses, pelvic pain and infertility. It also increases the risk of having an ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when an egg is fertilized inside the fallopian tube or in another area outside of the womb. This can be life threatening for the mother. More than 1 million women develop PID in America each year and, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 100,000 of these cases result in infertility.

A pregnant woman with gonorrhea may spread the infection to her baby during childbirth as the baby passes through the birth canal. In an infant, gonorrhea may cause blindness and infection of the blood and joints.

Diagnosing Gonorrhea

To diagnose gonorrhea, a doctor takes samples of discharge from the infected area, such as the throat, rectum, cervix or urethra. Laboratory testing of the sample determines whether the bacterium is present. A urine sample can also be tested for gonorrhea if the bacteria has infected the cervix or urethra.

When symptoms of gonorrhea are present, a doctor may also test for other STDs. It is not uncommon for other STDs, especially chlamydia, to occur at the same time as gonorrhea.

Treating the Bacteria

Doctors prescribe antibiotics to treat gonorrhea. Since some strains of gonorrhea are resistant to antibiotics, it is important for patients to take the full course of medication prescribed to ensure it kills all strains. Although the medication treats the infection, it cannot repair damage already caused by the disease. Taking antibiotics also does not prevent future contraction of gonorrhea if the patient exposed to it again.

Over-the-counter pain relievers, used according to package directions, are helpful for relieving the symptoms while waiting for the antibiotic to kill the bacteria. It is important for patients to return to the doctor for further testing and treatment if symptoms continue after completing the course of antibiotics.

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