Gonorrhea

Known colloquially as "the clap", gonorrhea is one of many, widespread sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Though it is easily treated, many don't seek treatment, which can have devastating long-term side effects. Here you'll find all the information needed to understand and seek treatment for gonorrhea.

What Is It?

Gonorrhea is a disease that is easily transmitted through any type of sexual contact. Oral, anal or vaginal sex will spread the disease if one partner is infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are more than 700,000 cases of gonorrhea each year.

Gonorrhea is caused by the bacteria Neissera Gonorrhoeae. This bacterium thrives in warm, moist environments including the female reproductive tract, urethra, mouth, anus, and even the eyes if exposed. Ejaculation is not necessary for gonorrhea to spread.

Those who are most likely to be diagnosed with gonorrhea are those who:

  • Have multiple sexual partners
  • Abuse alcohol or other drugs
  • Have a partner with a previous history of STDs
  • Do not use condoms

If someone is diagnosed with gonorrhea, the Board of Health for the state that they live in will be contacted. This is done to ensure follow-up care is obtained as well as to find past partners to test them in an effort to prevent further spreading of the disease.

Symptoms

The symptoms of gonorrhea can be somewhat deceptive. They are often so mild that people don't know there is a problem. Here is a comprehensive guide to the various symptoms of gonorrhea between men and women:

Men: Some men have no symptoms at all, while others will develop symptoms 1 to 14 days after infection, though it can take up to a month for symptoms to appear.

  • Burning during urination
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • White, yellow or green discharge from the penis
  • Red or swollen urethra (opening in the penis)
  • Painful or swollen testicles

Women: Most women have no symptoms at all. If they do, they are often mild and are easily misdiagnosed as a vaginal or urinary tract infection. Symptoms usually appear within2-5 days, though it can take longer.

  • Burning during urination
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Severe pain in lower abdomen
  • Fever

Anal Infections: Symptoms are similar for both men and women.

  • Discharge
  • Anal itching
  • Soreness
  • Bleeding
  • Pain during bowel movements

Throat Infections: Throat infections rarely cause any symptoms. The only known symptom of a throat infection is a sore throat.

If the infection spreads to the bloodstream symptoms will include a fever, rash and arthritis-like symptoms. A doctor will typically perform culture tests to determine if the symptoms are in fact gonorrhea. If someone is diagnosed with gonorrhea, they should be tested for other STDs, including HIV, since it's possible to have multiple infections at the same time, and these infections can cause complications with HIV.

Treatment

Because gonorrhea is a bacterial infection, most cases can easily be treated with a type of antibiotic called cephalosporin. It is marketed under several different names and is related to penicillin, so those with an allergy to penicillin should be sure that there doctor is aware of the allergy to prevent a reaction. Cephalosporin medications are available as an oral tablet or as an injectable medication.

While no studies have been performed on humans, there have been no reports of adverse affects on unborn babies whose mothers were treated with cephalosporin. Pregnant women who contract gonorrhea should get treatment immediately due to the risk of the infection spreading to the baby.

There has been a disturbing emergence of cephalosporin resistant strains of gonorrhea, making treatment more difficult that it had been in the past. Because the control strategy for gonorrhea in the United States depends exclusively on antibiotic medications, strains of the bacteria that are resistant to treatment pose a big problem. So when doctors perform the tests to determine if someone is actually infected with gonorrhea, they will also determine the strain of the bacteria.

If a person is infected with a drug resistant strain, the doctor may recommend a treatment approach that uses cephalosporin in conjunction with another medication, either azithromycin or doxycycline. If it is found that someone is infected with a resistant strain, their doctor will monitor the condition closely to ensure that treatment is effective.

Complications

If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause serious, permanent health problems:

  • In women, gonorrhea can cause a condition called Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). About 750, 000 women develop PID each year, and it can lead to internal abscesses that are difficult to treat. It can also lead to ectopic pregnancy and infertility.
  • If left untreated in men, gonorrhea can cause epididymitis, a very painful condition that affects the testicles and can lead to infertility.
  • If a woman is pregnant, she can spread the infection to her baby during birth. This can be life threatening to the baby, leading to blindness, blood or joint infections.
  • Anyone with untreated gonorrhea faces the risk of the disease spreading to the blood and joints which can be life threatening. Those with gonorrhea can also contract and transmit other STDs more easily, including HIV.

Prevention

Prevention of gonorrhea is simple. The easiest way to prevent the spread is to abstain from sexual activity. Sexual partners can also be tested before having sex to ensure neither is infected. Condoms are highly effective at preventing the spread of disease and should be used consistently and correctly. There are now condoms made of materials that are safe for those with latex allergies, though lamb skin may not be effective at preventing the spread of the disease.

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