Gonorrhea (pronounced: gah-nuh-REE-uh) is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The bacteria can be passed from one person to another through vaginal, oral, or anal sex, even when the person who is infected has no symptoms. It can also be passed from a mother to her baby during birth. You cannot catch gonorrhea from a towel, a doorknob, or a toilet seat.
A girl who has gonorrhea may have no symptoms at all or her symptoms may be so mild that she doesn't notice them until they become more severe. In some cases, girls will feel a burning sensation when they urinate, or they will have a yellow-green vaginal discharge. Girls also may have vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods.
If the infection becomes more widespread and moves into the uterus or fallopian tubes, it may result in an infection called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause abdominal pain, fever, and pain during sexual intercourse, as well as the symptoms above.
Guys who have gonorrhea are much more likely to notice symptoms, although a guy can have gonorrhea and not know it. Guys often feel a burning sensation when they urinate, and yellowish-white discharge may ooze out of the urethra (at the tip of the penis).
Symptoms usually appear 2 to 7 days after a person has been exposed to gonorrhea, and in girls they may appear even later.
Gonorrhea can be very dangerous if it is left untreated, even in someone who has mild or no symptoms. In girls, the infection can move into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries (causing PID) and can lead to scarring and infertility (the inability to have a baby). Gonorrhea infection during pregnancy can cause problems for the newborn baby, including meningitis (an inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord) and an eye infection that can result in blindness if it is not treated.
In guys, gonorrhea can spread to the epididymis (the structure attached to the testicle that helps transport sperm), causing pain and swelling in the testicular area. This can create scar tissue that might make a guy infertile.
In both guys and girls, untreated gonorrhea can affect other organs and parts of the body including the throat, eyes, heart, brain, skin, and joints, although this is less common.
If you think you may have gonorrhea or if you have had a partner who may have gonorrhea, you need to see your doctor or gynecologist. He or she will do an exam which may include checking a urine (pee) sample, or for a girl, swabbing the vagina or cervix for discharge, which will then be analyzed. Talk to your doctor about which test is best for you. The doctor may also test for other STDs, such as syphilis or chlamydia. Let the doctor know the best way to reach you confidentially with any test results.
If you are diagnosed with gonorrhea, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Anyone with whom you've had sex should also be tested and treated for gonorrhea immediately. This includes any sexual partners in the last 2 months, or your last sexual partner if it has been more than 2 months since your last sexual experience.
If a sexual partner has gonorrhea, quick treatment will reduce the risk of complications for that person and will lower your chances of being reinfected if you have sex with that partner again. (You can become infected with gonorrhea again even after you have been treated because having gonorrhea does not make you immune to it.)
It's better to prevent gonorrhea than to treat it, and the only way to completely prevent the infection is to abstain from all types of sexual intercourse. If you do have sex, use a latex condom every time. This is the only birth control method that will help prevent gonorrhea.
Reviewed by: Nicole A. Green, MD
Date reviewed: March 2013
|Planned Parenthood Info for Teens This site from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America has information on relationships and sexual health for teens.|
|American Sexual Health Association This nonprofit organization is dedicated to preventing sexually transmitted diseases and offers hotlines for prevention and control of STDs.|
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|Planned Parenthood Federation of America Planned Parenthood offers information on sexually transmitted diseases, birth control methods, and other issues of sexual health.|
|GYT - Get Yourself Talking and Get Yourself Tested This media campaign designed to get young people to talk with their health care providers and partners about the importance of getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases.|
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|Talking to Your Partner About STDs You know you should talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) before the action starts, but if you're like most people the thought of having "the talk" makes you completely nervous. Welcome to STD Chat 101.|
|Telling Your Partner You Have an STD People who have STDs might feel apprehensive about discussing their disease with a partner. Here are some tips on talking to a partner when you have an STD.|
|Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) Pelvic inflammatory disease, sometimes called PID, is an infection of the fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, or ovaries. Learn how to protect yourself.|
|About Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) You've probably heard lots of discouraging news about sexually transmitted diseases. The good news is that STDs can be prevented. Find out how to protect yourself.|
|Gyn Checkups Girls should get their first gynecological checkup between ages 13 and 15. Find out what happens during a yearly gyn visit -- and why most girls don't get internal exams.|
|About Birth Control Before you consider having sex, you need to know how to protect yourself. Read this article to get the basics on birth control.|
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