What Is Gonorrhea?
Also called “the clap” or “the drip,” gonorrhea is a sexually-transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It grows easily in the mucus membranes of your body, especially in the warm, moist environment of your reproductive tract, urethra, anus, mouth, or throat.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 700,000 new cases occur each year, less than half of which are actually reported to health officials. In 2012, 334,826 new cases were reported to the CDC.
How Do You Get Gonorrhea?
There are two main ways in which gonorrhea is transmitted:
- Having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected partner
- Passing the infection from mother to child during delivery
The CDC reports that gonorrhea is most common among sexually active persons between the ages of 15 and 24. Sexually active teens and women, as well as men living a homosexual lifestyle, are also at special risk.
What Are the Symptoms of Gonorrhea in Women?
Most women with gonorrhea have no early symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they are usually so mild they are easily ignored or mistaken for other types of infections. Symptoms typically begin within 2 to 10 days of infection, sometimes as long as 30 days.
When women do experience symptoms, they may include one or more of the following:
- Increased vaginal discharge, often greenish yellow or whitish in appearance
- Lower abdominal or pelvic pain
- Pain or burning when urinating
- Conjunctivitis – red itchy eyes
- Bleeding between periods
- Spotting after having sex
- Swelling of the vulva
- Burning in the throat
- Swollen glands in the throat
Because most people experience few or no symptoms early on, there is a significant risk of long-term damage caused by lack of early treatment. Serious long-term complications of untreated gonorrhea can include the following:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): This condition can lead to long-term pelvic and abdominal pain. It can also lead to scar tissue formation that blocks the fallopian tubes, along with an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy and infertility.
- Blood or joint infections, some of which can be life-threatening.
- Increased risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Gonorrhea
The good news is that gonorrhea can be cured with medication. The bad news is that while medication can cure the infection, it cannot reverse any permanent damage that may have occurred. That’s why early detection and treatment are so important.
If you have recently had sex, and especially if you’ve experienced any of the symptoms discussed above, it’s time to schedule a test for gonorrhea. ACPC offers free testing for gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
If you test positive for gonorrhea, your healthcare provider will prescribe either an oral or injectible antibiotic. You must take all of the medication until it runs out, even if symptoms disappear. Never share your antibiotics with anyone, and wait at least 7 days after completing treatment to have sex again. Be sure notify all sex partners if you test positive, so that they can be tested and treated as quickly as possible, if needed. This will reduce their risk of long-term consequences, and prevent further spread of the disease.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Gonorrhea
There are only two ways to completely prevent gonorrhea:
- Abstain from all sexual activity
- Only have sex during marriage with an uninfected spouse
While condoms may provide a small risk reduction, they have a surprisingly high failure rate even when consistently used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Your safest option for preventing STD infection is to limit the number of sex partners, practice sexual abstinence, and limit sexual activity to one uninfected partner after you get married.
Gonorrhea During Pregnancy
As noted earlier in this article, gonorrhea can be passed from mother to child during delivery. Pregnant women who have gonorrhea are at increased risk for premature delivery and miscarriage. Babies who get infected can get infections of the eyes which can lead to blindness. They can also get blood and joint infections which can have life-threatening consequences.
That’s why, if you are pregnant, it is important to get tested and treated early to reduce the risk to you and your baby. If you have any questions about an unplanned pregnancy or your risk of gonorrhea, you may contact ACPC at anytime to schedule a free, confidential appointment.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control. (2015). Gonorrhea – CDC Fact Sheet. Accessed from http://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea.htm. Source: WebMD. (2015). Sexual Conditions Health Center – Gonorrhea. Accessed from http://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/guide/gonorrhea.