Gonorrhea, also known as the clap, is a bacterial sexually transmitted disease (STD). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that gonorrhea infects more than 700,000 people a year in the U.S., making it one of the most prevalent STDs. Because it is bacterial in nature, gonorrhea is curable, but if left untreated for an extended period of time, it can lead to complications.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which flourishes in moisture and warm temperatures. Gonorrhea can be spread through any type of sexual activity, including orally and anally. Having unprotected sex significantly increases the odds of transmitting gonorrhea. Beyond sexual activity, in pregnant women who are infected with gonorrhea, the infection can be passed on from mother to child during birth. Younger people have higher rates of infection, but gonorrhea can be caught at any age.
What does gonorrhea look like? Several possible symptoms may point to gonorrhea as a cause. These symptoms vary between men and women. According to the University of Pennsylvania Health System, male symptoms of gonorrhea may include unusually frequent urination, pain during urination, swelling of the urethra, discharge from the penis, or a sore throat. Females may also experience pain during urination and vaginal discharge, along with a sore throat, fever, and abdominal pain.
However, symptoms of gonorrhea may not develop at all. If they develop, women tend to see symptoms within a few days of infection, but most women show no symptoms at all. Men may take as much as a month to develop symptoms, but a fraction of infected men may similarly have no symptoms at all.
A few tests may be used to diagnose gonorrhea. A swab of the infected area may be tested. If discharge is present, it may be examined to determine whether gonorrhea is the origin. A urine test can also yield a diagnosis. Once caught, gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics.
If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to a few possible complications. According to the Mayo Clinic, untreated gonorrhea can lead to infertility in both women and men. When left untreated in men, gonorrhea can lead to epididymitis, a condition which can cause infertility. In women, untreated gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease; this may damage certain parts of the reproductive system. Children born to pregnant women with gonorrhea may even suffer blindness as a result of the infection.
Gonorrhea is very common, easily transmitted, and often difficult to recognize. Anyone who participates in unprotected sexual activity is at risk if their partner is a carrier. If you have any questions about gonorrhea or believe that you may have an STD, talk to your doctor.
Gonorrhea: CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gonorrhea. Mayo Clinic.
Gonorrhea. University of Pennsylvania Health System.