Gonorrhea, often referred to as “the clap,” is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. It primarily affects the mucous membranes of the genitals, rectum, and throat. [1]

Gonorrhea Symptoms, Causes, Treatment: Growing Sexually Transmitted Disease

While gonorrhea is treatable with antibiotics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports a concerning rise in cases in recent years. This highlights the importance of awareness, early diagnosis, and effective treatment to prevent complications and further spread of the infection. [2]

Symptoms of Gonorrhea

The symptoms of gonorrhea can vary depending on the infected body part and gender. Men often experience more noticeable symptoms than women. [3] Here’s a breakdown of potential symptoms:

A. Symptoms in Men:

  • Burning sensation during urination: This is a frequent and often the first symptom men experience.
  • Painful or swollen testicles: Inflammation of the testicles, also known as epididymitis, can cause significant discomfort.
  • Pus-like discharge from the penis: A white, yellow, or greenish discharge from the penis can be a telltale sign of gonorrhea.

B. Symptoms in Women:

  • Pain or burning during urination: Similar to men, women may experience discomfort when passing urine.
  • Increased vaginal discharge: An unusual change in vaginal discharge, such as a thicker consistency or yellow/greenish color, might indicate gonorrhea.
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods: Bleeding outside of your usual menstrual cycle could be a symptom of gonorrhea.
  • Pelvic pain: Lower abdominal pain or a general feeling of discomfort in the pelvic region can occur.

Important Note: It’s crucial to remember that women often experience mild or even absent symptoms of gonorrhea. This is why getting tested, even if you don’t have any noticeable symptoms, is essential.

C. Symptoms in All Genders:

Sore throat: Gonorrhea can infect the throat through oral sex. Symptoms might include a scratchy or sore throat.
Anal itching, discharge, or pain: Gonorrhea can also spread through anal sex. Signs of infection in the rectum can include itching, discharge, or discomfort during bowel movements.

Causes of Gonorrhea

gonorrhea infographic

Gonorrhea Infographic. Shutterstock Image

According to a National Institute of Health study, Gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted infection (STI), is solely caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. This microorganism thrives in warm and moist areas of the body, particularly the reproductive tract, throat, eyes, and rectum. The primary mode of transmission for gonorrhea is through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected individual. [4]

Engaging in sexual activity with multiple partners or having intercourse with someone who has multiple partners increases the risk of contracting the infection. Additionally, sharing sex toys without proper cleaning between partners can also lead to the transmission of gonorrhea.

Due to its highly contagious nature, even a single exposure to the bacterium can result in infection, emphasizing the importance of practicing safe sex and using barrier methods such as condoms consistently and correctly.

Complications of Untreated Gonorrhea

Leaving gonorrhea untreated can lead to serious health problems. Here are some potential complications:

Diagnosis of Gonorrhea

gonorrhea - diagnosis and treatment

Gonorrhea – Diagnosis and Treatment. Shutterstock Image

Getting tested for gonorrhea is crucial if you suspect you might be infected, even if you don’t have any symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent complications. Several tests can be used to diagnose gonorrhea: [9]

  • Urine test: This is a common and non-invasive test for men.
  • Swab test: A swab is used to collect a sample of cells from the cervix in women or the urethra in men.
  • Throat swab or rectal swab: These tests are used if oral or anal sex is suspected to be the route of transmission.

Treatment of Gonorrhea

Fortunately, gonorrhea is a treatable bacterial infection. The current recommended treatment involves antibiotics. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the treatment process:


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a single dose of injectable antibiotic ceftriaxone (500mg) for uncomplicated urogenital and anorectal gonorrhea in adults and adolescents. [10]

Alternative regimens:

  • In some cases, if ceftriaxone cannot be used, alternative regimens may be recommended. These might include a combination of oral azithromycin (2g) and either oral gemifloxacin (380mg) or injectable gentamicin (240mg).
  • For pharyngeal gonorrhea (infection of the throat), additional antibiotics may be needed.

Completing the Course:

It’s crucial to complete the full course of antibiotics, even if your symptoms improve quickly. Stopping treatment early can lead to:

  • Antibiotic resistance: The bacteria can develop resistance to the antibiotics, making the infection more difficult to cure in the future.
  • Treatment failure: Incomplete treatment might not completely eradicate the bacteria, leading to a relapse of the infection.

Partner Treatment:

If you are diagnosed with gonorrhea, it’s essential to inform all your recent sexual partners so they can get tested and treated as well. This helps prevent them from spreading the infection further and protects them from potential complications. Your healthcare provider can guide you on how to confidentially notify your partners.

Testing After Treatment:

Following treatment, your doctor may recommend a follow-up test to confirm that the infection is completely gone. This typically involves a repeat urine test or swab test a few weeks after completing the antibiotics.

Additional Considerations:

  • Sexual abstinence: It’s advisable to abstain from sexual activity until you and your partner(s) have completed treatment and been confirmed cured to prevent re-infection.
  • Addressing complications: If you have experienced any complications from gonorrhea, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), your doctor will recommend additional treatment specific to that condition.

Prevention of Gonorrhea

Practicing safe sex is the most effective way to prevent gonorrhea. Here are some key strategies:

  • Condoms: Using condoms consistently and correctly during vaginal, oral, and anal sex significantly reduces the risk of gonorrhea transmission.
  • Regular testing: If you are sexually active, especially with new partners, getting tested for STDs regularly is essential.
  • Open communication: Talking openly with your partner(s) about sexual health and getting tested together can help prevent the spread of STDs.


Gonorrhea may be a common STD, but that doesn’t mean you have to become another statistic. The key lies in awareness, responsibility, and proactive steps to protect your health. This information empowers you to:

  • Recognize the signs and symptoms, especially the often-subtle ones in women.
  • Understand the ease and importance of getting tested, even if you feel well.
  • Seek prompt and effective treatment with antibiotics to prevent complications.
  • Practice safe sex with condoms and communicate openly with your partner(s) about sexual health.

Remember, knowledge is power. By staying informed and taking charge of your sexual health, you can significantly reduce your risk of contracting gonorrhea and safeguard your well-being. Don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor or visit trusted sexual health resources for further guidance. Together, we can prevent the spread of gonorrhea and promote a healthier future for all.

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10 Sources

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[5] Jennings, Lindsey K. and Diann M. Krywko. "StatPearls [Internet]." Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. StatPearls Publishing, 13 Mar. 2023, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499959.
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[8] "What infections can affect pregnancy?" Https://www.nichd.nih, 14 Mar. 2024, www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/pregnancy/conditioninfo/infections.
[9] Ng LK, Martin IE. The laboratory diagnosis of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Can J Infect Dis Med Microbiol. 2005 Jan;16(1):15-25. doi: 10.1155/2005/323082. PMID: 18159523; PMCID: PMC2095009.
[10] Cyr, Sancta St. "Update to CDC's Treatment Guidelines for Gonococcal Infection, 2020." MMWR Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep., vol. 69, 2020, doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6950a6.

Michael Wight

Michael Wight is a health enthusiast and blogger. He contributes to different websites in the health and fitness niche.