Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(10):1786

See related article on gonorrhea.

What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea (say: gon-or-EE-ah) is an infection caused by germs. It can affect a woman's cervix (the opening to the womb) and a man's penis. It also can affect the rectal area, throat, and eyes. You can get gonorrhea by having sex (vaginal, oral, or anal) with a person who has gonorrhea. Some people don't have any symptoms, and some have serious symptoms. It may take two to six days after having sex with someone who has gonorrhea before you have symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

If you are a woman, gonorrhea can cause vaginal discharge that has no smell. You may have vaginal bleeding and pain, especially during and after sex. If the infection spreads, you may have stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, fever, chills, and sweats.

If you are a man, you may have a yellowish, thick discharge from your penis. It may also hurt to go to the bathroom.

Gonorrhea in the rectal area may itch. You may have a yellowish, thick discharge from the rectum, usually when you have a bowel movement. In severe cases, you may bleed from the rectum and have pain.

Your throat can get infected if you have oral sex with a person who has gonorrhea. You may have a sore throat with swollen glands.

What should I do if I think I have gonorrhea?

If you think you have gonorrhea or if you have had sex with someone who might have gonorrhea, go to your doctor or to the local health department. It is important to know for sure if you have gonorrhea, because the infection can cause serious problems if it is not treated.

How is gonorrhea treated?

Your doctor can give you medicine if you have gonorrhea. It is important to follow your doctor's directions and take all of the medicine.

Your doctor may ask you who you have had sex with in the past two months so that they can be treated, too.

If you have gonorrhea, don't have sex until your doctor says it's okay.

How can I keep from getting it?

The only way to make sure you don't get gonorrhea is to not have sex. If you do have sex, you can help protect yourself by using a condom and by not having sex with a lot of people.

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