What is gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a bacterial disease that is often transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person. This disease may also spread from an infected mother to her child during delivery. It is a common bacterial infection, and it affects both men and women equally. The infection may remain asymptomatic and it is possible that individuals who have gonorrhea do not realize they are infected. This infection is commonly found in people with multiple sexual partners.
Also known as the “clap” or “drip”, gonorrhea is a very contagious disease. It is a very common infectious disease in certain parts of the world where sexually active teenagers have one of the highest rates of such infections.
What causes gonorrhea?
Neisseria gonorrhoeae is the bacterium that causes gonorrhea. This infectious organism grows in warm, moist parts of the body, particularly in the reproductive tract. They are found in the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes of women, and urethra of both men and women. This bacterium can grow in the mucus membranes of different parts of the body including mouth, throat, and anus. N. gonorrhoeae commonly spreads through unprotected vaginal and oral sex. History of gonorrheal infection and having multiple sex partners increases the risk of this infection.
Symptoms of gonorrhea
Symptoms of gonorrheal infections typically appear within a 10-day period, and can even be discovered as early as two days after the individual is exposed to the organism.
The symptoms can be mild or severe, but one should always consult the doctor if they are experiencing anything unusual than the routine. At times some women may not notice the symptoms since they can be very mild.
The most common symptoms for women include:
- Greenish or yellowish discharge from the vagina
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Pelvic pain
- Painful urination
- Reddishness of the eyes
- Vaginal bleeding between periods
- Inflammation of the vulva
- Burning sensation in throat
Many women may notice gonorrhea discharge and think they have a yeast infection and go in for over the counter drugs. Vaginal discharge in women are linked to a number of different problems. Hence it is always important to consult a physician to ensure proper diagnosis and correct treatment.
In men, the gonorrhea infection produces symptoms within a few weeks of the initial exposure to the infectious organism. Some of these symptoms include:
- Greenish or yellowish pus-like discharge from the penis
- Painful urination
- Swelling and pain in the testicles
- Swelling in the throat
The symptoms usually take two to 14 days to appear after the person is infected with the bacteria.
Gonorrheal infections may affect other parts of the body, like the rectum, eyes, and joints. Infection in the rectum may result in strain during bowel movements and can also leave traces of blood after wiping. Infection of the eye may lead to painful eyes, sensitivity to light, and whitish discharge from the eyes. Bacterial infections may lead to warm, reddish, swollen, and painful joints.
Do not hesitate. Consult with a doctor if any one of these symptoms, like painful urination or pus-like discharge appears.
Gonorrhea during pregnancy and childbirth
Premature delivery, still births or spontaneous abortion are few of the risks associated with pregnant women who have gonorrhea. The baby can become infected as it passes through the birth canal during delivery. The baby would be at risk of blindness, joint infections, or life-threatening blood infection. Timely detection and treatment of this disease in pregnant women is very important as it will reduce the risk of further complications in the baby.
Diagnosis of gonorrhea
There are various methods the doctor will use to diagnose the presence of gonorrhea bacteria in your body:
- The doctor will use a swab to take a sample fluid from the urethra in case of men, or from the cervix for women. This would then be sent to a lab for further analysis.
- A throat or anal culture could be done to see if the infection is in your throat or anus.
- A urine sample can also be taken to check for presence of gonorrhea bacteria.
- If the doctor suspects joint or blood infection, then he or she would obtain a sample by inserting a needle into the asymptomatic joint to withdraw fluid. Once it is withdrawn, they will add a stain to the sample and examine it. If there are any reaction of the cells to the stain, then it would be tested positive for gonorrhea. This is a quick and easy method, but it is not a foolproof method to determine the infection.
- The doctor would take a similar type of sample and place it on a special dish. This will be incubated under ideal growth conditions for several days. If gonorrhea is present, then a colony of gonorrhea bacteria would grow.
At times, a person can be infected with chlamydia disease at the same time as gonorrhea since both these diseases are sexually transmitted diseases and can occur together. The doctor would conduct tests for both to rule out any further cases.
During your doctor’s visit be prepared with the below:
- List down the symptoms you have come across in detail, even if they may seem unrelated
- Discuss your sexual history
- You can also provide the details of your sexual partners so that the doctor may contact them on your behalf or you may contact them for treatment
Treatment for gonorrhea
When it comes to treatment, it becomes very tricky to detect gonorrhea symptoms. It’s very important to identify the symptoms on timely manner. Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics given either as oral pills or through injection. A single dose of Azithromycin orally or antibiotic injection Ceftriaxone is usually given to treat this infection.
Ensure to also get your partner tested for this disease and get them treated as well if infected with the bacteria. This would avoid any further spread of the disease. Medications should not be shared between each other. Check with your doctor for prescriptions for each person and complete the whole course as prescribed even if symptoms disappear.
If medications are shared, then it would be difficult to treat the prevailing infection. Do not cut back the course of medication. It would make the bacteria more likely to develop resistance to the antibiotic.
Once you complete the medication course for gonorrhea, you should wait for seven days before having sex. To avoid contracting this disease again, both you and your partner should complete the treatment. If you have been treated for gonorrhea in the past, you can still contract this disease if you have unprotected sex with an infected partner.
Currently there are no home remedies or over-the-counter medications that will treat the infection.
Risks and complications if gonorrhea is left untreated
If left untreated, gonorrhea may lead to other health conditions in women, like pelvic inflammatory disease, increase risk of ectopic pregnancy (this is a condition where the eggs which are fertilized develops outside the uterus. This is dangerous both for the mother and the baby), infertility, and can gravely affect the fallopian tubes. In men, untreated gonorrhea may lead to epididymitis which is painful condition that affects the testicles and at times lead to infertility if still left untreated, scarring of urethra, and it can gravely affect the prostate. This bacterial infection may also spread to the blood, which can be life threatening. Gonorrhea can pose severe conditions such as it can spread to the joints as well. People infected with this disease are more likely to contract HIV. Those people with gonorrhea infection as well as HIV infection are more likely than people with HIV infection alone to transmit HIV to another person.
Prevention of gonorrhea
Gonorrhea infections can be prevented in the following ways:
- Using condoms during sexual activity
- If you are infected with gonorrhea, avoid all sexual contact
- Avoiding having multiple partners
Inform the partners you have had sex with that you are recently infected so it avoids further spread of the disease. Since symptoms can go unnoticed, treatment would become more difficult at later stages.
- Both men and women can contract gonorrhea.
- If an individual leaves gonorrhea untreated, it can lead to more severe medical conditions.
- Gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics.