Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by bacteria that grows and multiplies in the mucous membranes of the body cervix (opening of the uterus), uterus, fallopian tubes in women and in the urethra in both women and men. The bacteria can also grow in the mouth, eyes, throat and anus. Gonorrhea is a very common infection. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) estimates that 700,000 people in the U.S. are infected each year.
Gonorrhea is spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Gonorrhea infection can also be spread to other unlikely parts of the body. For example, a person can get an eye infection after touching infected genitals and then the eyes.
In men, when initially infected with gonorrhea, the signs and symptoms include a burning sensation when they urinate and a yellowish white discharge from the penis. Sometimes men will also get painful or swollen testicles. Symptoms of rectal infection include anal itching, soreness, bleeding, and sometimes painful bowel movements.
In women, the early symptoms of gonorrhea are often mild, and many women have no symptoms of infection. Many times, when they do have symptoms, they can be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection. The initial signs and symptoms in women may include a painful or burning sensation when urinating and a vaginal discharge that is yellow or occasionally bloody. Women with mild or no symptoms of this infection are still at risk for developing complications. Untreated gonorrhea in women can lead to PID (pelvic inflammatory disease). This may not cause any symptoms. If symptoms are present, they can be severe, and include abdominal pain and fever. PID can cause internal abscesses (pockets of pus) that are difficult to cure which can damage the fallopian tubes enough to increase the risk of an ectopic pregnancy (when the fertilized egg grows outside the uterus, such as in the fallopian tube) or even infertility.
In men, gonorrhea can cause epididymitis, a painful condition of the testicles that may sometimes lead to infertility if left untreated. Gonorrhea, if left untreated, can also lead to scarring of the urethra, making urination difficult.
If you are pregnant, you should be tested for gonorrhea. It is possible for you to give the infection to your baby as they pass through the birth canal during delivery. This could cause blindness, joint infection, or a life-threatening blood infection in the baby. Treatment of gonorrhea as soon as it is detected in a pregnant woman will lessen the risk of these complications.