For a completely treatable, non-life-threatening sexually transmitted disease, gonorrhea has a pretty terrible reputation. In fact, just the word sounds menacing and mysterious – like apocalypse or cacophony. In today’s society, a stigma surrounds STDs. STDs aren’t openly talked about, and as a result, many people lack the education necessary to prevent, recognize, and seek treatment for common STDs. After reading this article, the word “gonorrhea” still might sound like an evil warlord, but it won’t be mysterious.
Gonorrhea is caused by a bacterium. To completely demystify gonorrhea, it’s important to know that it is an infection caused by a bacterium. The bacterium is shared via sexual contact, and it can infect the mouth, genitals, or anus – i.e., the vagina, penis, cervix, anus, urethra, or throat. Gonorrhea is spread through sexual contact. Gonorrhea is transmitted by vaginal, anal, or oral sex/sexual contact. Gonorrhea can still be shared via sexual fluids even if a male does not ejaculate. Casual contact does not spread gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is very common. The Center for Disease Control estimates that over 800,000 women and men contract gonorrhea every year in the United States. The majority of these cases were among people in their late teens and early 20s.
Gonorrhea can be prevented. That’s the good news. With regular use (that is, every time) of latex condoms, you can significantly reduce the risk of contracting or spreading gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is easily treated. Since gonorrhea is caused by a bacterium, it can be treated with antibiotics. Treatment should always be supervised by a medical professional, but here is some additional advice. Take all the antibiotics that are prescribed to you (even if your symptoms disappear before the treatment is complete). Make sure your sexual partner is treated as well, to prevent reinfection. Do not share your medication with anyone, even your partner.
The symptoms of gonorrhea. For males, common symptoms include a burning feeling during urination or a pus-like discharge from the penis. Frequent urination and swollen testicles can also be symptoms for males. However, some males do not experience any symptoms. In fact, most women do not experience any symptoms. However, symptoms for a female can include stomach pain, bleeding or spotting between periods, abnormally colored discharge, or pain during sex or urination. In the event of an oral infection, itching, soreness, and trouble swallowing are common symptoms. If anally infected, the anus may itch, and bowel movements may be painful. Symptoms typically begin within 1-14 days of infection.
If in doubt, always get tested. Your health care provider can easily do tests to determine if you have gonorrhea. To test for gonorrhea, your health care provider may test any discharge, use a swab to take cell samples, or test your urine. Talk openly with your health care provider about your sexual activity so that they can recommend how often you should be tested for gonorrhea and other STDs. If left untreated, significant damage can occur. When left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to significant health complications. In pregnant women, gonorrhea can lead to premature labor or even stillbirth. It can also be passed from mother to baby during birth, which can lead to severe infections in the baby. In both men and women, untreated gonorrhea can lead to infertility. In women, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which is an infection of the uterine tubes, ovaries, or uterus. Pelvic inflammatory disease can lead to infertility or difficulty getting pregnant. In men, gonorrhea can spread to the testicles and cause epididymitis, which can also cause infertility. There is also a small chance that untreated gonorrhea can lead to a condition that causes arthritis and skin sores. Testing for gonorrhea and treating it early can avoid all of these complications. If you find out that you have gonorrhea, you need to tell any sexual partners. Since some women and men do not experience any symptoms, they are at risk of letting an infection go untreated, which could lead to the health issues discussed previously, such as infertility. Be considerate of their health and let any sexual partners know that they should get tested themselves.
As you can see, gonorrhea is a bacterial infection – it is treatable, preventable, and entirely demystified. By using latex condoms consistently and getting tested on a regular basis, you can significantly reduce your risk of a) contracting gonorrhea and b) inadvertently letting gonorrhea go untreated. Staying aware and educated about STDs is incredibly valuable. Even if you don’t want children now, letting an untreated gonorrhea infection progress could lead to the lifelong consequence of infertility. Hopefully, these 9 things you must know about gonorrhea will enable you to take care of your health by preventing, recognizing, or treating a possible infection.
Center for Disease Control. Gonorrhea – CDC fact sheet. (2013, Feb). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/STDFact-gonorrhea.htm
Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). Gonorrhea: Symptoms, test, and treatment. Retrieved from http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/stds-hiv-safer-sex/gonorrhea-4269.htm