Gonorrhea is a type of sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is very common among sexually active people.1 It's transmitted via vaginal, oral, or anal sex, and can also be passed from an infected pregnant mother to her infant during delivery.
You may have heard gonorrhea referred to before as "the clap."2 It's ultimately caused by infection with a bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhoeae.3
Prevalence of Gonorrhea
Gonorrhea most commonly affects younger sexually active people, although anyone who has sex can acquire it.1
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 555,608 cases of gonorrhea were reported in the United States alone. This translates to a prevalence of roughly 172 cases out of every 100,000 people.3 Between the years of 2016 and 2017, the reported cases increased by nearly 19%—and were up by over 75% since the historic low back in 2009.3
Signs and Symptoms of Gonorrhea
Like many STDs, gonorrhea often does not have any signs or symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Burning and pain with urination
- Discharge from the penis (in men)
- Unusual and often foul-smelling odor from the vagina in women)
- Bleeding between periods (in women)
These symptoms may be mild but can grow worse the longer a person has the STD. Because symptoms of gonorrhea often resemble other STDs or other health conditions, the only way to know for sure if you have it is to get tested, which can be done through a simple lab test of urine or vaginal or urethreal swabs.
Complications Associated with Gonorrhea
Gonorrhea can lead to serious health complications if it's left undiagnosed and untreated. In men, this may include problems with the testicles and prostate gland.
Women who have untreated gonorrhea may go on to develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is inflammation and infection of a woman's upper reproductive organs. In fact, the clap is one of the most common causes of PID.1,3
PID can lead to serious complications, including:
- Chronic and often severe pelvic and abdominal pain
- Increased risk for infertility
- Increased risk for ectopic pregnancies
Babies who contract gonorrhea from their mothers during delivery are also at risk for health complications, including eye infections (which may lead to blindness), joint infections, or even blood infections that can be life-threatening.1
Treatment for Gonorrhea
Gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics, such as ceftriaxone.4 Unfortunately, drug-resistant strains of this bacteria are on the rise, which is making gonorrhea harder to treat. Because of this, it's essential to take all medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor.
You can reduce your risk of getting the clap by practicing safer sex techniques such as using condoms or having one committed sexual partner.
Regular screenings are also essential for reducing your risk of gonorrhea or helping you get earlier treatment. The CDC actually advises all sexually active women younger than 25 to get screened yearly, in addition to older women who have multiple or new sex partners.1
Would you like to be tested for gonorrhea? If you're sexually active and have never been tested for STDs, it's never been easier to get your screening done.