What Complications Can Gonorrhea Cause?

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on May 14, 2023
2 min read

Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD). It’s easily cured with antibiotics. But if you’re not treated in a timely manner, you can develop some serious long-term health problems, like infertility. This is true for both women and men.

Untreated gonorrhea can cause infections of the fallopian tubes, cervix, uterus, and abdomen. This is called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). It can permanently damage the reproductive system and make you infertile (not able to have children).

PID is treated with antibiotics. If you put off treatment, the infection can scar the fallopian tubes. This raises your risk for chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy starts when a sperm fertilizes an egg in the fallopian tube. The fertilized egg moves into the uterus within a few days. The embryo then settles into the uterine lining, where the baby grows and develops for the next 9 months or so.

In an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube, where an embryo is unable to develop. Scarring caused by PID can block a fallopian tube, preventing the embryo’s passage to the uterus.

The most common complication of gonorrhea in men is a condition called epididymitis. It causes inflammation around the tubes in the testicles that carry semen. Symptoms include pain and swelling in the testicles, and possibly fever.

Epididymitis is treated with antibiotics. Your symptoms may go away before you finish your course of antibiotics. But take all the medications your doctor prescribes to make sure the infection is completely gone. You may have lingering tenderness in the testicles. Applying ice packs and wearing an athletic supporter may help ease your symptoms.

A gonorrhea infection can spread to other parts of your body. The bacteria can get into your bloodstream. It can also infect your joints, skin, and other organs. Symptoms for these types of infections include joint pain, swelling, fever, skin rashes, and sores. These complications are unusual, but they can occur if you ignore treatment.

If you have gonorrhea and give birth, your baby is at risk for complications, too. The baby’s eyes are especially at risk. After delivery, a nurse will usually place antibiotic ointment on a newborn’s eyes as a precaution against gonorrhea or other infections. Your baby might also develop sores on their head and infections elsewhere.

See your doctor if you think you or your partner has gonorrhea. If you do, both of you should be treated. You should also avoid all sexual activity for at least a week after you complete your treatment.