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Sexual Conditions Health Center

Gonorrhea - What Happens

Gonorrhea causes no long-term problems if it is treated early in the course of the infection before any complications develop. Left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to serious complications.

Complications in women

Women with untreated gonorrhea may have the following complications of the female reproductive system:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The risk of infertility increases with each episode of PID.
  • An abscess in or near the ovaries (tubo-ovarian abscess)
  • Inflammation of the Bartholin glands
  • An ectopic (tubal) pregnancy
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Infertility
  • Fitz-Hugh–Curtis syndrome (rare)

Complications in pregnant women

Problems related to untreated gonorrhea in pregnant women include:

  • The possibility of a miscarriage.
  • Preterm labor. The woman may be given medicines to prevent premature birth, which could require a stay in the hospital.
  • Premature rupture of the membranes (PROM), which happens before labor contractions start. The amniotic sac breaks open, causing amniotic fluid to gush out, or less commonly, to slowly leak.
  • Premature delivery. A premature infant has an increased risk of health problems.
  • Infection of the lining of the uterus (endometritis).

If a woman has gonorrhea when she gives birth, her newborn can be infected.

Women with untreated gonorrhea and infected newborns are more likely to develop long-term complications of gonorrhea.

Complications in newborns

Newborns of women with untreated gonorrhea may have any of the following complications:

  • Pinkeye (conjunctivitis). Most newborns who have gonorrhea also get pinkeye.
  • An infection in the bloodstream (sepsis)
  • Inflammation of a joint (arthritis)
  • Scalp infections at the site of a fetal monitoring device
  • Infection of the fluid and tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)

Complications in men

Men with untreated gonorrhea may develop:

  • Epididymitis, an inflammation and infection of the epididymis—the long, tightly coiled tube that lies behind each testicle and collects sperm.
  • An inflammation of the prostate gland (prostatitis).

Complications of untreated gonorrhea in other areas of the body

Disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI) occurs when the gonorrhea infection spreads to sites other than the genitals, such as the joints, skin, heart, or blood. Complications of DGI include:

  • Fever.
  • Skin infection (cellulitis).
  • An infection in the bloodstream (sepsis).
  • Inflammation of a joint (arthritis). It most often affects the knees and hands.
  • An infection and inflammation of the heart valves and the chambers of the heart (endocarditis).
  • An infection of the fluid and tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).

Because many women do not have early symptoms of gonorrhea that cause them to seek treatment, they are more likely than men to have more serious complications from gonorrhea spreading to other parts of the body.

Having a gonorrhea infection once does not protect you from getting another infection in the future. A new exposure to gonorrhea will cause reinfection, even if you were previously treated and cured.


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 04, 2014
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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