Gonorrhea: Causes, Symptoms & Diagnosis

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated -

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Gonorrhea is one of the most common infections with nearly 90 million new cases occurring every year.

What is Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that affects both men and women in different ways. It mostly affects the damp areas of the body like the reproductive tract, eyes, mouth, throat, rectum, and vagina. Also known as “the clap”, gonorrhea has been around for hundreds of years and is transmitted by a bacteria.

A 2D illustration of bacteria which cause gonorrhea and meningitis


The following are the primary causes of gonorrhea:

  • Bacterial infection: Gonorrhea is caused by a bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
  • Unprotected sex: While having unprotected sex is one of the major transmitters of gonorrhea, it can also be caused by any sexual contact via the mouth, penis, vagina or anus with an infected person. When left untreated, the bacteria can easily spread to other sexual partners, and one doesn’t need to ejaculate in order to pass it on. You can get the disease by simply coming in contact with the infected area on a person.
  • Vertical infection: It can also be transferred from an infected mother to her child during delivery.

Note: Although, the gonorrhea bacteria cannot survive outside the body for more than 2-3 seconds, so you cannot acquire it from any external sources, like the toilet seat, sharing food, water, etc.


The symptoms of gonorrhea usually appear between 2 to 14 days of coming into contact with the bacteria. While some people may have prominently visible signs of the bacterium, others can have no symptoms at all and still be positive. People without any symptoms are called non-symptomatic carriers, and there is a huge chance of a spread of the disease through them because they cannot notice the disease and neither can their sexual partners. We will now look at the symptoms in detail below:

Gonorrhea Symptoms in Men

Some men may not have any noticeable symptoms, while others may show symptoms as follows:

  • Burning and irritation while urination
  • Swelling and pain of the prostate gland
  • Increase in frequency of urination
  • Thick and yellow discharge from the penis
  • Continued sore throat
  • Swelling of the penis opening

Gonorrhea Symptoms in Women

In women, the symptoms are often not very clearly visible or identifiable. Although, in some cases, there might be the following symptoms:

  • Burning, itching, and irritation of the vagina and cervix
  • Urge to urinate often
  • Thick yellow or green discharge from the vagina
  • Spotting between periods
  • Abdominal pain
  • Inflammation of the cervix
  • Pain while sexual intercourse
  • Feeling of tiredness

Gonorrhea in Newborns

  • Irritation of the mucous membranes of the eyes (can also lead to blindness)

Oral or Rectal Gonorrhea Symptoms

  • A sore throat
  • Rectal pain
  • Rectal discharge

In rare cases, the infected person may also experience skin lesions, joint pain, and swelling. If not treated in time, it can also develop into pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI), meningitis, or endocarditis.

Diagnosis of Gonorrhea

Apart from being a bit uncomfortable, a test for gonorrhea is completely harmless and painless and it should be done as soon as any of the symptoms start showing up. There is more than one way to diagnose gonorrhea:

  • Urine sample: For a urine sample, your doctor will ask you to not urinate for at least two hours before the test, because you might wash away the bacteria in such a case, thereby, compromising the test.
  • A swab of the affected area: Other times, the doctor may take a swab sample of the fluid from your rectum, throat, or the cervix. A bacteria culture of the swab is performed in the lab to test for gonorrhea or chlamydia.

To get yourself tested for gonorrhea, you can go to a sexual health clinic, a young people’s clinic, or a private clinic. You can also buy a self-test kit for gonorrhea from the drug store, though, there is a risk that the results from this may not be very accurate.

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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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