Being sexually active comes with a lot of worries and responsibilities. Not only can sexual activity lead to pregnancy, but it can also lead to unwanted infections, commonly known as STDs. STDs can be very unpleasant, and many can also cause a number of dangerous symptoms and health complications. Gonorrhea is a very common STD in both men and women. Though fully treatable, gonorrhea can cause future health and fertility problems should it go untreated.
What is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by the bacteria neisseria gonorrhoeae. Thought to affect more than 800,000 men and women in the United States every year, gonorrhea can cause a number of unpleasant side effects, including painful intercourse, burning during urination, and vaginal and penile discharge. This bacterium commonly infects the genitals and rectums of men and women, but it can also cause infection of the eyes, throat, and mouth. Gonorrhea can be treated effectively with a course of antibiotics.
How Do You Get Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is primarily contracted through sexual interaction with an infected partner. You can get gonorrhea through:
- vaginal intercourse
- anal intercourse
- oral intercourse
You can also get gonorrhea by touching an infected area on your partner’s body, including the penis, vagina, or rectum.
Who’s At Risk for Gonorrhea?
Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for contracting gonorrhea. However, certain factors can increase your chances of getting the disease, including:
- engaging in unprotected sex
- having numerous sex partners
- being female and between the ages of 15 and 19
- being male and between the ages of 20 and 24
What are the Symptoms of Gonorrhea?
The symptoms of gonorrhea tend to vary between men and women. Men tend to suffer from more severe symptoms, which generally manifest within 30 days of infection. Side effects in women are much more mild, and are often mistaken for a vaginal or urinary tract infection. Many infected women experience no symptoms at all.
Gonorrhea in men tends to cause the following symptoms including:
- a white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis
- severe burning sensations during urination
- swelling of the testicles
Gonorrhea in women can lead to symptoms such as:
- vaginal discharge
- burning during urination
- painful intercourse
- bleeding between periods
Complications Associated with Gonorrhea
Gonorrhea tends to increase your risk of contracting other STDs, including HIV and chlamydia. If left untreated, gonorrhea can also cause severe damage to the reproductive organs in both men and women. Men who have prolonged exposure to the gonorrhea bacteria can develop epididymitis, an inflammation of the testicles that can result in infertility.
Women with untreated gonorrhea may develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection of the uterus and fallopian tubes. This can lead to uterine scarring, and may prevent fertilization and implantation of an embryo. Gonorrhea can also increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy.
Women who are pregnant and have gonorrhea are also at risk of passing the infection along to their baby during delivery. Babies can contract the gonorrhea infection in the birth canal, and this can lead to blindness, joint infection, or serious blood infection.
Your health care provider can diagnose gonorrhea relatively easily. The STD can be identified using the stain test. During this test, a sample of your discharge will be placed on a slide. A colored dye is then added to the slide. This dye allows the gonorrhea bacteria to be viewed under the slide. Alternatively, gonorrhea can be diagnosed by performing a culture test. A sample of your discharge will be collected on a swab. This swab is then cultured for two days, allowing the bacteria to grow. The cultured swab is then analyzed under a microscope.
If you have any signs of gonorrhea, it is imperative that you seek treatment as soon as possible. The disease is fully treatable, however, treatment cannot reverse any internal damage done to your body by the illness. Treatment generally involves one cycle of antibiotics, including:
There are ways to prevent contracting and spreading the gonorrhea infection. The only foolproof way to prevent transmission is to abstain from sexual activity. Other preventative measures include:
- limiting your number of sexual partners.
- using a condom during sexual activity.
- reporting any signs or symptoms of gonorrhea to your health care provider.
- notifying all sexual partners about any STDs.
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