Sofie Wise

Shannon Chapman

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About Author — Shannon enjoys breaking down technical subjects and giving others the tools to make informed decisions. Her interests include behavioral economics, sustainable living, meditation, and healthy cooking.

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Is Gonorrhea Curable?

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that affects both women and men. It is caused by a bacterial infection that is transmitted by having oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a person who already has gonorrhea. The infection is spread through semen and vaginal fluids, but it can infect the eyes, mouth, and throat in addition to the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, urethra, and anus. Gonorrhea is the second most common sexually transmitted bacterial infection in the US, and yet it is possible for infected individuals to exhibit no symptoms. Read more below to learn what to do if you have Gonorrhea.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Gonorrhea

Sometimes someone with Gonorrhea does not show any symptoms. It is unclear how common it is, with some estimates being the majority of men and women to only 10% of men and 40% of women show no symptoms. The key signs of Gonorrhea can appear within one or two weeks after having sex with a partner with Gonorrhea. Even with no symptoms, it is still possible to transmit the disease and damage the reproductive system.

There are some differences in how Gonorrhea presents in men vs women, but in general the most common reported symptoms in both men and women are:

  • Gonorrhea discharge – For women and men, this includes abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis that may be green, yellow, or white.
  • Burning sensation while urinating – Also called dysuria, this symptom is common with other STDs and is an important sign to get tested.
  • Painful, burning and swollen glands in throat – This is a very common sign of a Gonorrhea infection from oral sex.

Women can also have painful periods, bleeding between periods, pain during sex, abdominal pain, or a fever. Men can also have a less common symptom of swelling or pain in either or both testicles. Gonorrhea can infect one or both eyes causing discharge, conjunctivitis (itchy, red eyes), or sensitivity to light. Gonorrhea can also spread or infect the anus causing:

  • Discharge
  • Bleeding
  • Rectal pain

How is Gonorrhea Diagnosed?

Gonorrhea can be diagnosed by several different laboratory tests. They can either use a urine sample to test for the bacteria or a cotton swab from the infected area. The Gonorrhea test most often uses a swab from the cervix for women and the urethra for men, but can also include a swab of the anus or other potentially infected areas. This swab is used for a culture or antigen for testing, both of which can identify if Gonorrhea is present. A doctor may also conduct a physical exam to examine symptoms and check for other STDs. Gonorrhea and Chlamydia are very similar, so it is important to test for both to ensure you receive the right treatment. A doctor may ask:

  • How often do you have unprotected sex?
  • Do you have a new partner or multiple sexual partners?
  • Do you exhibit any symptoms like discharge, pelvic pain, or pain when urinating?

These questions can be used to determine if you have a STD, and answering yes increases the likelihood that you may have contracted one. Getting tested for a STD can be scary and intimidating, but remember you are taking charge of your health and can have peace of mind knowing if you do or do not have a STD and what you can do about it.

Is Gonorrhea Treatable?

Many people just want to know how can you get rid of Gonorrhea. Since Gonorrhea is caused by a bacterial infection, Gonorrhea treatment is a regimen of oral antibiotics. Some strains of Gonorrhea in the US have become antibiotic resistant, sometimes called “Super Gonorrhea”. Therefore, a medical physician will decide on the best course of antibiotics, with some of the commonly recommended ones being: ceftriaxone, cefixime, doxycycline,  or azithromycin (the brand name is Zithromax). The infection should clear after one to two weeks. You should never stop taking antibiotics until the recommended course is finished, even if you think the infection cleared or you are feeling better. If you do not finish the antibiotics, the infection can come back and be resistant to the antibiotics you were taking.  Additionally, since antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria are already more common, if your symptoms continue after a few days of taking antibiotics, consult your doctor. They may switch you to a different strain of antibiotics.

Is Gonorrhea curable? Yes, Gonorrhea is curable by taking the appropriate medication as directed; however, repeat infections are common. You and your sexual partner(s) should always be tested after three months of completing treatment, especially if you are unsure whether your partner(s) received treatment.

Your and your sexual partner(s) should not have sex again until treatment is complete. You should wait at least one week after completing a prescribed single dose medication. You should finish all doses if you are prescribed a seven-day treatment. In some cases the infection may still be present, so you should wait until you and your partner(s) are sure the disease is no longer present.

Side Effects of Gonorrhea

Because Gonorrhea can have no symptoms, some people go untreated. Even with those who have symptoms; stigma, access, or other reasons get in the way of getting medical attention. Not receiving prompt and proper treatment can create serious health problems.

For women, Gonorrhea that goes untreated can spread through your uterus to your fallopian tubes. Fallopian tubes connect the ovaries to the uterus and transport fertilized eggs during pregnancy. If untreated Gonorrhea spreads to this area, the result is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), affecting around 5% of women in the US.

Pelvic inflammatory disease, similar to gonorrhea, can have no symptoms or just some pelvic or abdominal pain initially. Unfortunately, PID can do permanent damage to a women’s reproductive system, including:

  • Long-term pelvic pain – PID can damage the fallopian tubes or other areas of the reproductive system inflaming them and causing chronic pelvic pain.
  • Infertility – As the infection spreads through the fallopian tubes, the damage can cause scars that prevent any sperm from reaching an egg.
  • Ectopic pregnancy – Sometimes, the sperm is able to get through and fertilize an egg, but the same damage and scarring can prevent the fertilized egg from reaching the uterus. This fertilized egg can implant in the fallopian tubes or elsewhere. Since these other areas are not designed to expand as the egg goes, they can rupture causing massive internal bleeding and even death. It is extremely important to call a doctor immediately, if you experience any symptoms, such as heavy vaginal bleeding, dizziness or shoulder pain.
  • Premature birth – Even with the damage caused by the disease, it is still possible to conceive a child. Sometimes, PID can result in the birth occurring before the due-date, which can risk the health and development of the child.

For men, Gonorrhea can also lead to serious health problems. Gonorrhea can cause infertility in men, and sometimes the infection can spread past the penis to other areas of the body causing a more serious infection and fever or pain. In addition, it is possible for Gonorrhea to cause:

  • Epididymitis – This occurs when the epididymis is infected, the tube beside the testicle that carries sperm, which causes inflammation, scrotal pain, and fever.
  • Proctitis – This results in inflammation of the rectum.
  • Prostate gland infection – This is an infection of the prostate gland, which can cause fever, pain during sex or while urinating, and pain in the lower back.
  • Blood or join infection – Untreated Gonorrhea can spread to the joints or blood, causing a life-threatening illness.

How Long Does it Take to Get Rid of Gonorrhea?

Once you are infected with Gonorrhea it is unclear how long Gonorrhea can last in your system until treatment. Some estimate it can last for months. Once you have been infected, you can get tested immediately. In some cases, if you test negative but the suspected sexual encounter was recent, a doctor may advise you to come back after one week to be retested to ensure it is a fully correct diagnosis. After completing treatment, the infection usually clears in 7 to 10 days.

How to Prevent Gonorrhea

Because Gonorrhea is a STD, the only 100% effective way to not contract the disease is to not have oral, anal, or vaginal sex. If you are sexually active, however, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk:

  • Limit the number of sexual partners – Have yourself and your partner get tested before having oral, vaginal, or anal sex and remain monogamous to better ensure you are not exposed. The more partners you have at any given time, the more likelihood of contracting gonorrhea or any other STD.
  • Use condoms – Use condoms as directed every time to help reduce the risk, but condoms are not 100% effective in eliminating the risk.
  • Get tested regularly – Since having a history of STDs increases your likelihood of contracting another, getting tested regularly helps limit exposure.
  • Avoid douching – Douche or douching refers to washing out the vagina either with an at-home mix of water and vinegar or using a purchased product that can include antiseptics and fragrances.  Between 20% and 40% of women aged 15 to 44 in the US use a douche and believe it helps clean and freshen their vagina as well as avoid getting a STD or pregnancy. Health experts agree that douching is both not effective and increases your risk of a STD or other health problems.

Should any of these symptoms arise or if you suspect you may have a STD, it is very important to get tested. Even if you have no symptoms, as can happen with Gonorrhea, you should be getting tested regularly so you do not unknowingly spread the disease. You can make an appointment with your primary care physician or see an urgent care in order to be tested.