Gonorrhea is what the Center for Disease Control calls “a very common” sexually transmitted disease, typically found in young people between the ages of 15 and 24. (1) It can infect your genitals, throat and rectum. Read on to learn more about this curable disease, including how and when to get tested for gonorrhea.
How Common Is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is extremely common. In fact, the CDC says it is the second most commonly reported notifiable disease in the U.S.. (2)
There are around 820,000 new cases in the U.S. every year (about half are diagnosed and reported to the CDC). As the disease is most prevalent among younger people, 570,000 of those patients are estimated to be between 15 and 24 years old. (3)
555,608 cases of gonorrhea were reported to the CDC in 2017.
Gonorrhea often has no symptoms. However, men and women with gonorrhea can experience a handful of the same symptoms. These may include bleeding, painful bowel movements, soreness, discharge and itchiness. (4)
They may also have a throat or rectal infection. Both of these, however, are often accompanied by no symptoms. (5)
Symptoms can appear between one and 14 days after infection. It’s important to remember that the presence or severity of symptoms is not an indication of whether complications are present or possible.
Gonorrhea Symptoms in Women
Gonorrhea symptoms in women can include painful urination, vaginal discharge and spotting between periods.
However, most women don’t experience symptoms. The CDC says that even when symptoms do occur, they can be confused for a urinary tract or bladder infection because they are so mild and generic. (6)
Gonorrhea Symptoms in Men
Gonorrhea symptoms in men can include painful urination, a white, yellow or green discharge from the penis, and, occasionally, painful or swollen testicles.
But again, many men with gonorrhea don’t experience any symptoms at all. (7)
When to Get Tested For Gonorrhea
It’s important to get tested as soon as possible for gonorrhea whenever any of the above symptoms — including discharge, painful urination or sores — are present, either in oneself or a sexual partner.
But since symptoms are rare, it’s a good idea to get tested anyway if you’re sexually active, especially if you use condoms inconsistently or have multiple sexual partners. (8)
In fact, the CDC recommends that all sexually active women younger than 24 years, as well as older women with new or multiple sexual partners, should be screened for gonorrhea annually. (9)
The CDC also suggests that men and women at increased risk be tested every 3-6 months.
How Soon Does Gonorrhea Show Up on a Test?
Gonorrhea testing can take place within 2-6 days from exposure. The test is more likely to be accurate the more of those days that have passed. Still, you can test within two days of possible exposure.
Some facilities will be able to provide instant results. In other cases, test-takers may need to wait between two and three days.
Speak to a health care provider for guidance about when you should get tested for gonorrhea. You can also see our guide on when to test for STIs.
What is a Gonorrhea Test Like?
Typically, gonorrhea tests are done with a simple urine sample. Clinicians usually use the urine to screen patients for both gonorrhea and chlamydia at the same time. Occasionally, swabs can be used to take a urine canal sample (from men) or cervix sample (from women). If the patient has had oral or anal sex, it is also possible to use swabs to take a throat or rectum sample.
Should I Get Retested?
If symptoms persist for two or more days post-treatment, it’s a good idea to get retested as soon as possible.
If one is at risk — younger than 24 or has multiple sexual partners — he or she should get retested after three months just to be safe.
Those who have been treated for gonorrhea can become reinfected if they again make contact with an infection person; if that happens, retesting is a must. (10)
Where Do I Get Tested?
A health care provider’s office, a community health clinic, the health department, or a local Planned Parenthood can administer gonorrhea testing.
Can I Get Tested At Home?
It is possible to order test kits to test for chlamydia at home.
myLAB Box can send you a test kit for certain STIs or for a full-panel test. They also connect you to a physician who can call a prescription into your pharmacy if your results are positive.
You can also order a test online and get same-day testing with our affiliate STDcheck.
Can I Get Tested for Free?
Depending on your income, you may be able to get free STI testing. Search here for your local Planned Parenthood to find out.
Though treatments may vary, the CDC recommends taking two antibiotic drugs simultaneously to cure gonorrhea. (11)
Gonorrhea is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Therefore, it’s important to take the full course of medication to avoid the infection becoming resistant. If symptoms persist for more than two days after taking the medication, consult a health care provider.
Complications of Gonorrhea
Women with untreated gonorrhea can contract pelvic inflammatory disease, which can damage fallopian tubes and cause chronic pelvic pain — even leading to infertility. (12)
The CDC estimates that 24,000 women become infertile every year due to untreated STIs. (13)
Men with untreated gonorrhea are at risk for epididymitis, which can result in infertility in rare cases. (14)
Both genders may experience disseminated gonococcal infection if the disease spreads to the blood. (15)
While medication will cure gonorrhea and keep it from progressing, it cannot reverse permanent damage the disease has already done.
How is Gonorrhea Transmitted?
Gonorrhea is transmitted via contact with an infected person’s penis, vagina, mouth or anus, regardless of ejaculation.
Mothers can also pass gonorrhea to infants during childbirth.
How Can I Prevent Gonorrhea?
Using latex condoms correctly will reduce your risk of getting gonorrhea.
The CDC says sex is safest within a monogamous relationship in which both partners have been tested.