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Sexual Conditions Health Center

Gonorrhea - Topic Overview

Gonorrhea is an infection spread through sexual contact. In men, it most often infects the urethra. In women, it usually infects the urethra, cervix, or both. It also can infect the rectum, anus, throat, and pelvic organs. In rare cases, it can infect the eyes.

Gonorrhea does not cause problems if you treat it right away. But if it's left untreated, it can lead to serious problems.

For a woman, untreated gonorrhea can move into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovariescamera.gif. This can cause painful scar tissue and inflammation, known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause infertility or ectopic pregnancy.

Sometimes gonorrhea is called the clap, drip, or GC.

A certain kind of bacteria causes gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection, or STI. This means it can spread from one partner to another during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

A woman who is pregnant can pass the infection to her newborn during delivery.

Many people have no symptoms, so they can pass gonorrhea to their sex partners without knowing it.

If there are symptoms, they may include:

  • Pain when you urinate.
  • Abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina.

Gonorrhea infection in the throat also usually does not cause symptoms.

Symptoms in men usually are easier to notice than symptoms in women. But some men have mild or no symptoms.

In women, the early symptoms may be so mild that they are mistaken for a bladder infection or a vaginal infection. When an untreated infection moves into a woman's pelvic organs, symptoms can include lower belly pain, pain during sex, vaginal bleeding, and a fever.

The time from exposure to gonorrhea until symptoms begin usually is 2 to 5 days. But it may take as long as 30 days before symptoms start.

You can spread gonorrhea even if you don't have symptoms. You are contagious until you have been treated.

Your doctor will ask you questions about your past health and your sexual history, such as how many partners you have. Your doctor may also do a physical exam to look for signs of infection.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 26, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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