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What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease. Popular names for gonorrhea are clap, drip, dose, and strain.

How does it occur?

Gonorrhea is caused by bacteria. The infection is passed from person to person during sex. It is very contagious. The bacteria can enter the body through any body opening, such as the mouth, vagina, penis, or rectum.

In men, the infection usually starts in the urethra. (The urethra is the tube that carries urine out of the penis.) The bacteria may also infect the throat or rectum during oral or anal sex.

What are the symptoms?

You may not have any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they usually start 2 to 10 days after you were exposed to the disease. Symptoms of gonorrhea include:

  • thick, yellow discharge (drip) from the penis
  • burning or pain when you urinate
  • feeling like you need to urinate often.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will check your penis and testicles for signs of infection. Other infections can cause symptoms similar to gonorrhea. To confirm the diagnosis, your provider will do tests for gonorrhea. There are 2 kinds of tests:

  • a swab of the opening of the penis
  • a urine test.

The urine test usually provides a quicker result, but the swab, which takes 2 to 3 days for results, can also tell your provider which antibiotics are the best for treating the infection.

Your healthcare provider may also swab your anus or mouth if there is a chance you were infected in these areas.

How is it treated?

Gonorrhea is treated with an antibiotic. Many people with gonorrhea also have chlamydia (another sexually transmitted disease). Because of this, you may be given more than 1 medicine so that both infections are treated.

Tell your sexual partner or partners about their risk of infection. They should also be treated even if they don’t have symptoms.

Cases of gonorrhea are required by law to be reported to the local health department. The clinic staff will ask with whom you have had sexual contact. These people will then be told that they have had contact with someone who has gonorrhea. This can help protect them against the infection. (Your name will not be given.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) follows these infections so they can find epidemics in the early stages. This allows the CDC to take steps to prevent new infections and to get as many people as possible checked and treated.

How long will the effects last?

If only the urethra is infected, proper treatment should clear up the infection in about 10 days.

If it is not treated, gonorrhea can cause scarring of the urethra, trouble urinating normally, and infection of the testicles. Testicle infection can cause infertility, which means that you would not be able to have children.

The infection might spread into the bloodstream and to other parts of the body.

  • It may infect the joints and cause pain and swelling (arthritis).
  • It may spread to the brain and cause meningitis.
  • It may infect the heart, causing endocarditis.

It might cause death.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Follow the full treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Tell everyone with whom you have had sex in the last 3 months about your infection. Or you can ask the clinic staff to tell them. Your sexual contacts need to be treated even if they don’t have any symptoms. Do not have sex until both you and your partner have finished all of the medicine and your provider says it’s OK.
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for follow-up visits and tests. Your provider may need to make sure that the infection is gone.
  • Ask your provider if you need to be tested for other sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Call your healthcare provider if you feel you are getting sicker instead of better.

How can I help prevent gonorrhea?

  • Make sure you tell your sexual partner(s) that they have been exposed to gonorrhea. They need to be treated.
  • Reduce the risk of infection by always using latex or polyurethane condoms during foreplay and vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
  • Have just 1 sexual partner who is not sexually active with anyone else. Make sure your partner has been tested for gonorrhea and other infections.
  • If you have had sex without a condom and are worried that you may have been infected, see your healthcare provider even if you don’t have symptoms.
  • If you have been sexually assaulted and are at risk for having been infected, you should be treated to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

Written by David W. Kaplan, MD, and RelayHealth . Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-02-10
Last reviewed: 2010-01-04 This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional. References
Pediatric Advisor 2011.4 Index
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.