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Gonorrhea is passed through unprotected sex (including oral sex).
Some people may have gonorrhea and not know it because symptoms are mild or there are no symptoms. In women, early symptoms are sometimes so mild that they are mistaken for a bladder infection or a less serious vaginal infection.
Gonorrhea infections that occur in the throat do not usually cause symptoms.
When people do get symptoms, the symptoms usually show up 2 to 7 days after contact. The most common symptoms include:
Internal genitals (females)
- A change in vaginal fluid
- A change in periods or more painful periods
- Vaginal bleeding after sex or spotting between periods
- Pain during intercourse
- Pain in the lower stomach
- Rectal irritation, bleeding or pus
External genitals (males)
- Burning or pain when peeing
- The need to pee more often
- Unusual fluid from the penis
- Itchy feeling inside the penis
- Pain and/or swelling in the gonads
- Rectal irritation, bleeding or pus
When treated early, gonorrhea does not usually cause problems. If left untreated, gonorrhea may lead to serious complications including:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) - a serious infection that can cause infertility or trouble getting pregnant, tubal pregnancies or ongoing pelvic pain
- Epididymitis - an infection in the gonads which can cause infertility or trouble getting pregnant
- Pregnant people may pass gonorrhea to their baby's eyes during childbirth, which can lead to blindness if untreated
Other rare complications include reactive arthritis which affects the skin, eyes and joints, or spread of the infection to other organs in the body (Disseminated Gonococcal Infection).
Tests and Diagnosis
To find out if you have gonorrhea, you will need to be examined and tested by a health care provider. Testing for gonorrhea is done with a urine test or a swab from the vagina, urethra, rectum, or throat. Usually you will get tested for other STIs at the same time. Ask your health care provider to also test for syphilis, chlamydia and HIV.
Most test results are accurate seven days after contact. Results can take from 2 to 10 days, depending on where you live and how far away the lab is. It is a good idea to use condoms while you are waiting for your results.
Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. It is important to complete all the medication as directed, even if you start to feel better. Go back to your health care provider if you still have symptoms after you finish your medication.
Treatment for Partners
If you have gonorrhea, you will be asked about who you had sex with in the past two months (60 days). This is because gonorrhea is a reportable infection. Anyone you have had sex with will need to be tested and treated. Partners are almost always given medication whether they have symptoms or not. If you have not had sex in the past two months, your last partner should be tested.
There are a few ways you can tell partners about STI testing. Some people want to tell partners in person, others want to tell partners anonymously. You can talk to your health care provider about what ways might work best for you.
Avoid Re-infection or Prolonging Infection
It takes time for an infection to be cleared from the body, so it is important that you do not have penetrative sex (including oral sex) for seven days after you and your partners start the antibiotic treatment. If you or your partners do not finish the treatment or miss pills, the infection may be passed back to you or your partners and may cause health problems later on. If that happens, talk with your health care provider to see if you or your partners need more treatment.
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