Gonorrhea – symptoms, complications, treatment

Gonorrhea, a ubiquitous sexually transmitted disease. Nowadays, it's not as easy to treat as it used to be.

Maria Zavialova

What is gonorrhea

Blame the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae – the pathogenic agent of gonorrhea. It spreads through any sexual contact, including vaginal, oral, and anal. This insidious pathogen can result in severe complications, such as painful intercourse, fallopian tube obstruction, and even joint or eye infections.

It is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2020, a staggering 82 million people were infected with gonorrhea worldwide. It doesn’t care about socioeconomic status, it has only one favorite: young adults bears the brunt of the disease.

It can attack the genitals, anus, and even the throat with great ease. Once easily treated, the situation has taken a grim turn, with gonorrhea treatment no longer being a straightforward process, as we will elaborate on further in this article. Alas, the consequences of ignoring this disease can have grave and long-lasting effects, such as infertility, which can follow one throughout their life.

Gonorrhea causes

Unprotected contact with an infected person’s genitals or mucous secretions. However, it is important to note that transmission is highly unlikely to occur in public places such as women’s restrooms or swimming pools.

Women may contract a rectal infection even without engaging in anal sex. The presence of the bacteria in the anal area can result from simply wiping after sex.

Founder of the School of Women’s Health Natalia Silina

In pregnant women, gonorrhea can be passed on to the baby through perinatal contact with the infected cervix. This can result in premature birth, as well as serious neonatal complications and malformations, especially if the mother remains untreated.

гонорея gonorrhea

The symptoms of gonorrhea

The symptoms of gonorrhea manifest on the mucous membranes of the body. Men are more prone to exhibiting symptoms than women, and both sexes commonly experience a burning sensation while urinating. Other symptoms may include:

Vaginal gonorrhea symptoms:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge;
  • Pain during intercourse and urination;
  • Bleeding after sex or between periods;
  • Discomfort in the lower abdomen.

Genital gonorrhea symptoms in men:

  • Swollen and painful testicles;
  • Inflammation or swelling of the glans penis;
  • More frequent urination;
  • White, yellow, or green discharge from the penis.

Symptoms common in men and women

  • The rectum. Irritation, itching, discharge, even blood from the anus. Plus, it may hurt during defecation.
  • Throat. Symptoms are mostly absent or very mild, but may include irritation or swollen lymph nodes.
  • Eyes. Redness and conjunctivitis.

If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, go to the doctor! Most likely, you will be prescribed tests for STDs, since gonorrhea is often accompanied by other infections. Like chlamydia or trichomoniasis.

Gonorrhea complications

Without treatment, even asymptomatic gonorrhea causes a variety of serious complications in women and men. The bacteria multiply rapidly and spread through the body, causing other diseases. Some of them can even be life-threatening. That is why it is crucial to start treatment as soon as possible, especially during pregnancy.

Complications in women

The most common is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). It is not just painful, but can also cause scarring of the tissue in the fallopian tubes, which blocks them. In turn, this can lead to ectopic pregnancy and infertility. According to the WHO, gonorrhea causes the most serious complications among women.

Complications in pregnant women and newborns

Less serious complications include rhinitis, vaginitis, urethritis, and scalp infection in the infant.

Complications in men

Gonorrhea can cause a painful infection in the testicles called epididymitis, which can lead to fertility problems. Inflammation can also occur in the prostate gland – prostatitis, and in the urethra – urethritis. In any case, it will be painful and unpleasant without treatment.

Complications in both sexes

Without proper treatment, the bacterium will readily spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. In the worst-case scenario, it will cause sepsis, a blood poisoning. It can also cause;

  • fever;
  • arthritis;
  • dermatitis, which usually includes a rash or itching, dry skin;
  • inflammation and swelling around the tendons.

And of course, like other STDs, gonorrhea increases the chances of contracting or transmitting HIV to a partner. It also makes it much easier for other sexually transmitted infections to infect you and make treatment more difficult.

Gonorrhea: prevention, treatment and the worst part


The solitary dependable approach to dodge encountering the bacterium that triggers gonorrhea is to refrain from indulging in vaginal, oral, or anal activities – essentially, any form of sexual conduct. However, if this abstemious approach seems too extreme, you could consider the following alternatives:

  • Have sex only with someone you are sure of. In practice, this means a monogamous relationship with a faithful partner. It may sound boring, but gonorrhea is no fun either;
  • Using barrier methods of contraception with someone you are not sure about. Using quality male or female condoms during vaginal or anal sex. Latex pads or condoms during oral sex;
  • Don’t share your sex toys. Use a new condom every time you use them with a new partner. Disinfect after each use.

Each one of these straightforward and widely recognized regulations has been put in place for a purpose. Regardless of how simple it may seem to treat regular gonorrhea, over the last few decades, an unusual strain has surfaced.

Treating gonorrhea

The thing is that certain strains of the bacterium N. gonorrhoeae have developed resistance to antimicrobial drugs. And gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics.

A large-scale study by the World Health Organization, conducted in 73 countries, revealed that antibiotic resistance is growing exponentially in several groups. In 70 countries, resistance to a common antimicrobial agent, ciprofloxacin, has reached 100%.

Many countries are currently reconsidering the treatment of N. gonorrhoeae, which has already acquired the status of a superbug. The main conclusion is clear: do not self-prescribe antibiotics or any treatment, and do not complicate the doctor’s work. Only a specialist who is familiar with modern medical advances can prescribe effective and safe therapy.

About Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea


On a positive note, scientists have been attempting to develop a vaccine against the bacterium N. gonorrhoeae for decades, given the prevalence and danger of gonorrhea. However, their efforts have been unsuccessful so far due to the bacterium’s whole arsenal of antimicrobial resistance and its constant development. Nevertheless, modern technologies, bioinformatics tools, and computational methods have made it easier to identify and characterize antigens. As a result, researchers are optimistic and already have several potential targets for vaccine development. A vaccine against meningococcal infection, for instance, has shown 32% effectiveness against gonorrhea infection.

As scientists continue to work towards a solution, this article provides tips on avoiding this insidious bacterium. Share it with your friends, as knowledge is the best prevention for any disorder.

Remember, a happy woman is healthy and educated!

You can learn more about your health and body from our courses: A girl becomes a womanAll about you. What it’s like to be a WomanAll about you 35+.

I’m eager to offer these courses in English. Please send a request to dr.silinaeducation@gmail.com.

Lior Medical Center is available to provide you with the necessary examinations and adequate treatment.

Prepared by Dr. Silina School of Women’s Health, journalist Maria Zavialova.

All materials published on the Dr. Silina School of Women’s Health website have been reviewed by Natalia Silina, PhD, a gynecologist-endocrinologist and founder of the educational project.

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