If you know what gonorrhea is at all, it’s likely you recognize it only as a sexually transmitted disease (STD), but don’t know much about its nature, means of transmission or symptoms. If that’s you, you’re not alone. Only 54 percent of women were familiar with gonorrhea as of 2013 figures, making almost half of women ignorant of its danger or presence. (1)

Sadly, this is a huge reason that gonorrhea is so prevalent in the United States today. This common disease has increased in recent years, in fact. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “In 2017, a total of 555,608 cases of gonorrhea were reported in the United States, yielding a rate of 171.9 cases per 100,000 population.” They add that “During 2016–2017, the rate of reported gonorrhea cases increased 18.6%, and increased 75.2% since the historic low in 2009.” (2)

These numbers are severe in all quadrants of the United States. However, numbers are more significant in the South and in a few other outlying counties. As the CDC adds, “In 2017, 50.0% of reported gonorrhea cases occurred in just 70 counties or independent cities and 625 counties (19.9%) in the United States had a rate of reported gonorrhea less than or equal to 25 cases per 100,000 population.”

If you live in the South, it may be even more important for you to get tested, since the disease is widespread there. Either way, no matter where you live, it’s critical you know more about it, recognize its signs and symptoms (when present), and take steps to avoid getting and transmitting this STD.

What Is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is an infectious disease that most commonly spreads through sexual contact, though it can spread from mother to baby as well. It is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which you can get at the same time as chlamydia, or Chlamydia trachomatis.

Gonorrhea passes from person to person with the exchange of sexual fluids. This can happen during oral, vaginal or anal sex, and can also cause conjunctivitis in the eyes if you rub them with infected bodily fluids.

Gonorrhea Signs and Symptoms

According to Planned Parenthood, gonorrhea symptoms aren’t always straightforward or obvious. “Gonorrhea can be tricky,” they say, because “the signs of gonorrhea may be so mild you don’t even notice them. Sometimes people confuse gonorrhea symptoms with other infections. Lots of people don’t even realize they have gonorrhea – that’s part of the reason why it’s such a common infection.”

If you do have symptoms, they may appear anywhere from 1-14 days after infection, reports Medical News Today, adding that men and women experience slightly different symptoms. (3)

Symptoms in Men

The most common symptoms in men are:

  • Burning sensation when peeing
  • Green, yellow or white discharge from the tip of the penis
  • Painful or swollen testicles
  • Inflammation of the foreskin
  • Frequent urination
  • Eye pain, light sensitivity or eye discharge
  • Painful or swollen, red or warm joints
  • Sore throat, difficulty swallowing and swollen lymph nodes

This last symptom is less common, and all symptoms may be signs of other STDs – or, unfortunately, of multiple STD infections at once. If you notice any of the above symptoms, it’s critical to get tested immediately so you can do something about it.

Symptoms in Women

For women, the common symptoms include:

  • Pain during intercourse
  • Bleeding after intercourse
  • Green or yellow vaginal discharge
  • Swelling of the genitals
  • Bleeding in between periods
  • Heavier than normal periods
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Frequent, painful urination
  • Eye pain, light sensitivity or eye discharge
  • Painful or swollen, red or warm joints
  • Sore throat, difficulty swallowing and swollen lymph nodes

Symptoms of Rectal Infection

Because gonorrhea can infect the rectum as well, and symptoms may only appear there, it’s critical to know what they are. Rectal infection symptoms include:

  • Itching, bleeding, or pain with passing bowel movements
  • Anal discharge

Risks of Gonorrhea

There are a number of risks associated with gonorrhea that goes untreated for long periods of time. These include (4):

  • Passing the disease to babies during delivery
  • Increasing your risk of getting HIV
  • Increasing your risk of transmitting HIV
  • Infection of joints in the body
  • Infertility in men and women

These are potentially severe consequences that could shorten your life or risk your baby’s health, or could put other sexual partners at risk of the same. That’s why it’s so important to know the status of your sexual health at all times, and avoid it where you can.

How Can You Avoid Gonorrhea?

Knowing what the symptoms of gonorrhea are is important, but ideally, you can avoid getting gonorrhea in the first place by practicing good sexual health habits. If you are sexually active, it’s a good idea to get tested frequently (discussed below). It is also a good idea to abstain from having multiple sexual partners at the same time, if this is possible, since that both ups the chances of contracting an STD while simultaneously making it harder to trace the source of infection – and to report back to partners who may also need to get tested.

Wherever possible, you should also avoid having sex with new or unknown partners when under the influence of alcohol or other substances. These reduce your ability to think clearly and make it more likely that you will take an unnecessary risk. Try to engage with all new sexual partners with a clear head, hopefully after both of you have been tested first.

Of course, it’s not always possible to follow these guidelines to the letter, especially when you’re younger and have multiple partners. In that case, testing becomes key.

Should You Get Tested?

If you’re asking this question, the answer is usually “yes.” Knowing if you have STDs, and which ones you have, is a powerful first step in keeping your reproductive and sexual health in check. You should get tested if you:

  • Have recently changed sexual partners
  • Are considering a new sexual partner
  • Have had multiple sexual partners in the last year
  • Have had sex with an unknown partner
  • Have had sex while drunk or high
  • Have gone more than a year without being tested

Hands down the best way to avoid gonorrhea and similar diseases is regular screening. It is an essential part of a healthy sex life and can protect you and your partners from a range of STDs. For affordable and accurate STD screening in the privacy of your own home, request your STD test kit today.

References

(1) Trichomoniasis. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/trichomoniasis/

(2) Gonorrhea. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats17/gonorrhea.htm

(3) What to Know About Gonorrhea. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/155653.php

(4) Gonorrhea. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gonorrhea/symptoms-causes/syc-20351774