Healthy Living

Gonorrhea: The Top 20 Questions

1 What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is an STD caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium, which grows and easily multiplies in moist and warm areas of the body including the throat, anus, eyes, vagina, urethra, and female reproductive tract (the uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix). Gonorrhea is an infectious disease that is usually passed from one person to another through sexual intercourse (anal, oral, or vaginal). This kind of infection is more prevalent in people who have several sex partners. Hence, the best way to prevent this STD is to practice abstinence or limit your sexual partners to just one. Proper condom use may also decrease the likelihood of infection.


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2 What causes gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection or disease caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a bacterium that can affect the mucus membranes of the throat, mouth, eyes, rectum, urethra, and reproductive tract of men and women, including the penis, vagina, the fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix.

3 How is gonorrhea spread?

Also called "the clap", gonorrhea is spread most often through sexual contact with the vagina, penis, mouth, or anus of an infected partner. Penetration is not necessary for the transmission of the infection; infected bodily fluids coming into contact with your genitals is enough to give you the infection. Because the bacteria can live inside the cells of the cervix, urethra, rectum, throat, and occasionally, the eyes, you can easily get infected if you come in contact with infected semen or infected discharge from the vagina, penis, throat, or rectum. When gonorrhea bacteria come into contact with the eye, it can cause conjunctivitis.

4 Can one get gonorrhea through non-sexual contact?

Kissing can also spread the infection, as bacteria can be present in saliva, the mouth cavity, and on the tongue. You can also get infected if you use the sex toys of an infected person without cleaning them properly or covering them with a condom. Gonorrhea can also be transmitted perinatally from mother to newborn during delivery. 

5 What does gonorrhea look like?

Gonorrhea is characterized by a thick discharge from the penis or vagina that is usually whitish, greenish, or yellowish in color. It is also accompanied by genital itching, burning, redness, and swelling.

6 When do the symptoms of gonorrhea appear?

The symptoms of gonorrhea usually appear within 2 to 14 days following exposure to it. However, some people never experience any noticeable symptoms. As a result, they don’t even realize that they are infected.

A person who doesn’t show any symptoms of gonorrhea is also referred to as a nonsymptomatic carrier. Noted that even though there are no noticeable symptoms, the infection is still contagious and can spread to your sexual partners.

The symptoms of gonorrhea for men and women slightly differ.

7 What are the symptoms of gonorrhea in women?

Many women develop such mild symptoms of gonorrhea that they go unnoticed, which makes it very difficult to self-diagnose the infection. The discharge of  gonorrhea is often confused by women with vaginal yeast or bacterial infections. As discharge from the vagina can be a warning sign of several different health problems, you must seek the doctor’s advice to ensure proper evaluation and treatment.

The following are the common symptoms of gonorrhea in women:

  • Greenish, whitish or yellowish discharge from the vagina
  • Burning sensation or pain while urinating
  • Greater frequency  and urgency of urination
  • Sore throat
  • Heavier periods or bleeding between periods
  • Sharp pain in the lower abdomen or pelvis
  • Fever
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Spotting after sexual intercourse
  • Conjunctivitis (red, itchy eyes)
  • Swollen vulva (vulvitis)

8 What are the symptoms of gonorrhea in men?

Men, after exposure to the infection, may not experience any noticeable symptoms for several days or even weeks. In fact, some men do not develop symptoms at all. However, typically, symptoms appear after a week of transmission. A burning sensation or pain during urination is often the primary noticeable symptom of gonorrhea in men. 

Some other symptoms are the following:

  • Greenish, whitish, or yellowish pus-like discharge from the penis
  • Urgency of urination
  • Greater frequency of urination
  • Swelling of or pain in the testicles
  • Redness or swelling at the opening of the penis
  • Persistent soreness of and swollen glands in the throat due to oral sex

9 What is oral gonorrhea?

Oral gonorrhea or gonorrhea of the mouth is also a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the gonorrhea bacterium (Neisseria gonorrhoeae). This STD generally spreads through saliva or other bodily fluids containing this bacterium. In this disease, the pharynx gets infected and inflammation occurs. The most common cause of oral gonorrhea (also termed pharyngeal gonorrhea) is having oral sex with an infected partner. When bodily fluids like white discharge or pus from the vagina or penis of an infected person comes into contact with your mouth, you are likely to get the infection.

Kissing can also spread the infection, as the bacteria can be present in saliva, the mouth cavity, and on the tongue. The onset of oral gonorrhea is marked by symptoms such as difficulty in swallowing food, sore throat, white spots in the throat, strep throat, and redness of the throat.

10 What is pharyngeal gonorrhea?

See "What is oral gonorrhea?" above.

11 What is rectal gonorrhea?

Rectal gonorrhea is a form of gonorrhea that occurs in the rectum and can affect people who practice anal sex. Rectal gonorrhea is usually asymptotic, but can also cause pain and discomfort in the rectum, irritation or puslike discharge from the anus. You may also experience soreness and itching in the rectal area. 

12 Does gonorrhea have a smell?

Gonorrhea, which is characterized by a thick discharge from the penis or vagina, can have an unpleasant or foul smell. Oral gonorrhea can also cause foul-smelling pus in the mouth.

13 Is gonorrhea curable?

Yes, gonorrhea can be cured if the right treatment is followed. Your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics to treat the infection. In order to see fast improvement, you must undergo the treatment immediately and take any medications on time as prescribed by your doctor. However, while medication can stop the infection, it can’t reverse any permanent damage caused by the disease. While you are still under treatment, you should not engage in any sexual activity. In the future, always use a condom to decrease the likelihood of infection.

14 What is the first-line treatment for gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. A person suffering from gonorrhea is given a single oral dose of azithromycin and a one-time antibiotic injection of ceftriaxone in the buttocks. After antibiotic treatment, you should notice an improvement in your symptoms within a few days.

However, with the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea, treating this STD is becoming a big challenge. Stubborn cases are treated with an extended 7-day course of oral antibiotics or dual therapy. In this therapy, the antibiotics are generally given to the patient once or twice a day. 

15 Why is gonorrhea called the clap?

There are many theories associated with why gonorrhea is sometimes called the clap. For one, it is believed that 'clap' refers to ‘clapier’, an old French term that means brothel. In earlier days, gonorrhea easily spread because of these places. An old belief about gonorrhea held that treating the infection involved clapping the penis hard between hands or using a book, with the penis on a hard surface, to make the infectious discharge come out. According to another theory, during World War II, gonorrhea was very common among the GIs. It was said that the people who treated the patients would refer to GIs as having 'the collapse'. It was named 'the clap' as a bastardized form of the phrase 'the collapse'.

16 How long does it take to get rid of gonorrhea?

Your doctor will give you antibiotics to treat your gonorrhea. The first-line treatment regimen involves the dual therapy of a single dose of azithromycin by mouth and a single ceftriaxone injection in the buttocks, done on the same day, and simultaneously if it is possible.

If you have been experiencing signs or symptoms of gonorrhea, you should notice an improvement very quickly. The discharge and pain or discomfort felt when urinating should improve within 2-3 days. Heavier periods or bleeding between periods should improve by your next period. Pain in the testicles and pelvis should start to improve quickly, although in some cases it may take up to 2 weeks to disappear.

17 What should I do if there is no improvement in the symptoms?

In case there is no improvement in your symptoms, you should see the doctor again. He will investigate your condition and from there decide whether to repeat dual therapy or place you on a 7-day extended therapy. In the latter case, you will be prescribed either a single oral antibiotic or dual therapy (using 2 different antibiotics). You should abstain from sex for seven days after the course of antibiotics; otherwise, you could pass on the infection to your partner.

18 Are there home remedies for gonorrhea?

No, you cannot treat gonorrhea yourself using natural or home remedies, as curing the disease requires medication prescribed by a medical professional. While claims are made for some home remedies, bear in mind that these claims have not been scientifically substantiated. People infected with gonorrhea should not risk their and their sexual partners' health by foregoing medical treatment. 

19 Are there over-the-counter medicines for gonorrhea?

There are no over-the-counter antibiotics for treating gonorrhea.

20 What's the difference between gonorrhea and chlamydia?

Both gonorrhea and chlamydia are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) caused by bacterial infection and transmitted through sexual contact. However, the bacterial species that cause them are not the same. While chlamydia is caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis bacterium, gonorrhea is caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium. The symptoms of chlamydia appear very slowly and even take months to appear, while the symptoms of gonorrhea appear within a few days. Both gonorrhea and chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics, but the former requires stronger medications than the latter.