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Gonorrhea: Symptoms and Treatment 101

Gonorrhea is an infection spread through sexual contact. In men, it most often infects the urethra. In women, it usually infects the urethra, cervix, or both. It also can infect the rectum, anus, throat, and pelvic organs. In rare cases, it can infect the eyes.

Gonorrhea 101

Gonorrhea does not cause problems if you treat it right away. But if it’s left untreated, it can lead to serious problems.

For a woman, untreated gonorrhea can move into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. This can cause painful scar tissue and inflammation, known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause infertility or ectopic pregnancy.

For a man, untreated gonorrhea may increase the risk of bladder cancer.

The time from exposure to gonorrhea until symptoms begin usually is 2 to 5 days. But it may take as long as 30 days before symptoms start. You can spread gonorrhea even if you don’t have symptoms. You are contagious until you have been treated.

You are most likely to contract gonorrhea if you have multiple sex partners, engage in sexual acts with someone with a history of sexually transmitted diseases, use alcohol or controlled substances or have sex without a condom.

Gonorrhea is often accompanied by another STD such as chlamydia.

General symptoms

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Frequent urination
  • Pain when you urinate
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina
  • Symptoms in men usually are easier to notice than symptoms in women. But some men have mild or no symptoms.
  • In women, the early symptoms may be so mild that they are mistaken for a bladder infection or a vaginal infection. When an untreated infection moves into a woman’s pelvic organs, symptoms can include lower belly pain, pain during sex, vaginal bleeding, and a fever.
  • Tender or swollen urethra, testicles or opening of penis or vagina
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More severe symptoms can develop if treatment is not sought out immediately. These symptoms could be:

  • Infertility
  • Pregnant women with gonorrhea risk passing it to the baby
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
  • Scarring of the female reproductive organs (Salpingitis), or of the urethra
  • Painful abscesses filled with pus forming around the urethra or in the pelvic region
  • Meningitis
  • Joint or Heart infections

Basic treatment

Antibiotics are used to treat gonorrhea. It’s important to take all of the medicine as directed. Otherwise the medicine may not work. Both sex partners need treatment to keep from passing the infection back and forth.

Getting treatment as soon as possible helps prevent the spread of the infection and lowers your risk for other problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease.

Many people who have gonorrhea also have chlamydia, another STI. If you have gonorrhea and chlamydia, you will get medicine that treats both infections.

Avoid all sexual contact while you are being treated for an STI. If your treatment is a single dose of medicine, you should not have any sexual contact for 7 days after treatment so the medicine will have time to work.

Having a gonorrhea infection that was cured does not protect you from getting it again. If you are treated and your sex partner is not, you probably will get it again.


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Lorie Parch
Lorie Parch has spent 25 years working as an editor and journalist at national consumer magazines and leading websites. This includes staff roles at AOL (UK), Yahoo!, Time, Inc., Conde Nast, Hearst, American Media and Gruner + Jahr.


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