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What is Gonorrhea, its Symptoms, & Treatment?

by Shilpi Singh
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  • Gonorrhea is a familiar sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is characterized by inflamed mucous membranes of the genital tract, urethra, rectum, or even throat. It is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae- a bacterium having a predilection for the kind of mucous membranes present in the genitourinary tract and adjacent areas. Sometimes, this gonococcal infection is also called a “drip” or “clap” in slang language. The incubation period of Neisseria gonorrhoeae is usually 3 to 5 days (ranging from 2-10 days). Gonorrhea-infected patients can recover within a few months or years.[1, 3]

Who Gets Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea happens to anyone sexually active irrespective of their age or sex. It can be transferred from an infected sex partner to a healthy one through vaginal, oral, or anal sex when not using a condom. If mother-to-be individuals are infected with gonorrhea, they can pass their infection to their babies during childbirth. The risk of having gonorrhea is more in people if:

  • They have had any sexually transmitted infections earlier
  • They are under 25 years
  • They do not use dental dams each time they have oral sex or condoms while having vaginal or anal sex
  • They are sexually active women having new or multiple sex partners who haven’t tested negative for gonorrhea
  • They are sexually active gay (man having sex with another man) or bisexual man. [1, 2]

What Does Not Cause Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a contagious infection that easily spreads through sexual contact. Healthy individuals cannot get affected by gonorrhea in the following cases:

  • Sharing of personal items or foods and drinks
  • Intimate actions like kissing, holding hands, or hugging
  • Using a toilet after someone else
  • Inhaling droplets suspended in the air after the person sneezes or coughs. [1]


Gonorrhea has been known for centuries but is referred to by another term- ‘the clap.’ It is the second most common STD after chlamydia which is distributed worldwide, though its precise incidence is unknown because of many undiagnosed cases, cases where patients self-treat themselves, and defective reporting of patients. According to WHO, every year 82 million people are infected with gonorrhea. The rising cases of gonorrhea since the mid-1990s can be attributed to the inconsistent safe practice of sex and more drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Mortality cases in patients suffering from gonorrhea are rarely found.[1,3]

How do I know if I have Gonorrhea?

Often, people having gonorrhea do not experience any symptoms. Even if they don’t, they might be having serious health issues, which is why it’s essential to get tested for it, if they believe that they have been exposed. This is usually the case for those who are assigned female at birth including cisgender women, non-binary people with vaginas, and transgender men. Women having gonorrhea but with mild symptoms can be mistaken for simple vaginal or bladder infections.

Those who experience symptoms of gonorrhea are likely to be different from one another as these symptoms are based on the reproductive parts. Individuals who are assed male at birth including transgender women, cisgender men, and non-binary people with penises are the ones who mostly experience symptoms of gonorrhea

Symptoms In Men:

Men who have been infected by gonorrhea may not have visible symptoms of gonococcal infection until several weeks after getting exposed to the infectious bacterium. Hence, they could unknowingly spread their infection to their sex partners. The symptoms usually seen in men include

  • Yellow, white, or green penis discharge
  • A burning sensation while urinating
  • Painful, inflamed testicles (less common)

Symptoms In Women:

  • Dysuria- painful or burning sensation felt in the vagina while peeing
  • Pain in the pelvic area or lower abdomen
  • Increased or unusual vaginal discharge (yellow or white)
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods
  • Dyspareunia- painful sexual intercourse

Symptoms In All Genders:

Socially active people irrespective of their age can get gonorrhea infections in their throat through oral sex with infected genitals or anus or in their rectum through anal sex. Though, both such infections are not seen much. The symptoms include:

  • Throat infection: itchiness, scratchiness, or soreness inside the throat and trouble swallowing
  • Anal infection: itching, unusual anal discharge, and pain or burning sensation while pooping. [1,2]

How Does A Healthcare Provider Diagnose Gonorrhea?

Mostly, the doctor would test the patient’s urine sample. In case, the patient has undergone oral and/or anal sex, the doctor would collect samples from these body sites using cotton swabs. For some men, a healthcare provider may take a sample from the urethra whereas, in females, the doctor might take it from the cervix using a cotton swab. These samples are then tested for the presence of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. [2]

How is Gonorrhea Treated?

As gonorrhea is a bacterial infection, its treatable with antibiotics. Currently, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the couple have a shot of Ceftriaxone with a dosage based on their body weight. For instance, 500 milligrams if weight is less than 150 kilograms and 1g if more than 150kgs. Patients who are allergic to this medication may be provided with a shot of gentamycin and azithromycin. In case, of co-infection with Chlamydia, additional antibiotic like doxycycline is given to clear the infection.The treatment can help in eliminating bacteria from the body but cannot protect the patient from future same infections or undo any damage caused to the body by the infection before the treatment. [1]

Is There A Cure?

Yes, prompt and appropriate treatment can cure gonorrhea. However, it is important on the patient’s behalf to take all the prescribed medications as instructed by their healthcare provider even if the symptoms appear to improve, and not to share medications with others.[2]

How to Prevent Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is preventable if the infected person does not have sex and there is a reduced risk of contracting and spreading the infection. The steps that can help lower the possible risk of having gonorrhea include:

  • Avoid having sex with the person exhibiting symptoms of gonorrhea.
  • Do make use of a dental dam or condom while having sex.
  • Do not indulge in sex with anyone having an active infection.
  • Gets self-tested and the sex partners too.
  • Communicate openly with the sex partner about sexual activities and limit the sexual partners.


  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4217-gonorrhea
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea.htm
  3. https://www.britannica.com/science/gonorrhea

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