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Sexual Conditions Health Center

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Gonorrhea

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Also called the "clap" or "drip," gonorrhea is a contagious disease transmitted most often through sexual contact with an infected person. Gonorrhea may also be spread by contact with infected bodily fluids, so that a mother could pass on the infection to her newborn during childbirth. Both men and women can get gonorrhea. The infection is easily spread and occurs most often in people who have many sex partners.

What Causes Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a bacterium that can grow and multiply easily in mucus membranes of the body. Gonorrhea bacteria can grow in the warm, moist areas of the reproductive tract, including the cervix (opening to the womb), uterus (womb), and fallopian tubes (egg canals) in women, and in the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body) in women and men. The bacteria can also grow in the mouth, throat, and anus.

How Common Is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a very common infectious disease in the U.S. Each year, according to the CDC, there are as many as 700,000 new cases, with less than half of them reported to the CDC. There were 334,826 reported cases of gonorrhea in the U.S. in 2012. Sexually active teenagers have one of the highest rates of reported infections.

How Do I Know If I Have Gonorrhea?

Not all people infected with gonorrhea have symptoms, so knowing when to seek treatment can be tricky. When symptoms do occur, they are often within two to 10 days after exposure, but they can take up to 30 days to develop and include the following:

Gonorrhea symptoms in women

  • Greenish yellow or whitish discharge from the vagina
  • Lower abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Burning when urinating
  • Conjunctivitis (red, itchy eyes)
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Spotting after intercourse
  • Swelling of the vulva (vulvitis)
  • Burning in the throat (due to oral sex)
  • Swollen glands in the throat (due to oral sex)

In some women, symptoms are so mild that they go unnoticed.

Many women with gonorrhea discharge think they have a yeast infection and self-treat with over-the-counter yeast infection drug. Because vaginal discharge can be a sign of a number of different problems, it is best to always seek the advice of a doctor to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.

Gonorrhea symptoms in men

  • Greenish yellow or whitish discharge from the penis
  • Burning when urinating
  • Burning in the throat (due to oral sex)
  • Painful or swollen testicles
  • Swollen glands in the throat (due to oral sex)

In men, symptoms usually appear two to 14 days after infection.

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