Medically reviewed on November 22, 2022 by Amy Harris, MS, RN, CNM. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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You may do plenty to protect your sexual health, from practicing safe sex to paying close attention to any physical changes that surface. Gonorrhea, however, often goes undetected as an asymptomatic sexually transmitted infection (STI) unless you receive regular screenings .
Caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae and transmitted through vaginal sex, anal sex, or oral sex, 2020 saw 677,769 documented cases of gonorrhea in the U.S. alone—a number believed to be much lower than the true count because many go unreported . Although impacted individuals represent various ages and demographics, this STI inordinately affects young adults .
But while gonorrhea symptoms aren't always present, “asymptomatic” isn’t synonymous with being healthy. Left unchecked, gonorrhea can lead to various health consequences that may challenge your wellness—and even alter your life’s trajectory.
Fortunately, most accounts of gonorrhea can be cleared up with antibiotics, but it’s still worth learning more about gonorrhea long-term effects if you suspect you may have contracted this STI.
As mentioned above, gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease or infection. The infection can be spread through sexual contact, whether that's through genital, anal, or oral sex. This can also lead some to wonder: can you get gonorrhea from kissing if it can be spread orally? While research is still being done to understand this and science is still emerging, it's unclear whether this may be the case. However, some gonorrhea cases have been known to infect the throat, eyes, mouth, or rectum. Nonetheless, untreated gonorrhea cases can lead to long-term effects, including antibiotic resistance and disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI).
Gonorrhea primarily infects the cervix in people assigned female at birth . If gonorrhea symptoms emerge, they may include:
However, the CDC asserts that many females show no symptoms at all; if they do, they may be subtle or easily confused with signs of a bladder or vaginal infection .
An untreated gonorrhea infection might lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Pelvic inflammatory disease affects an estimated one million females in the U.S. annually, with 85% of these cases due to an STD such as gonorrhea .
From tenderness low in the belly to chills and fever, PID results in various symptoms and significantly impacts the health of women’s reproductive organs.
One of the biggest concerns with PID is its capacity to scar fallopian tubes. In turn, this may cause:
Only 50% of females will experience the symptoms from a case of a gonorrhea infection, but the disease is far more telling for men: 90% will show symptoms after infection.3 The three most common signs are :
Over time, undiagnosed or untreated gonorrhea may lead to several complications for men, primarily those listed below .
With epididymitis, the rear of a man’s testicle—the part responsible for keeping and carrying sperm—becomes inflamed from a bacterial infection . Some of its most ubiquitous symptoms include:
Although it’s uncommon, epididymitis might result in infertility–which underlines the importance of never ignoring symptoms.
Prostatitis refers to a cluster of conditions that affect the prostate—the walnut-sized gland that sits underneath a man’s bladder and in front of the rectum. When the prostate becomes inflamed—whether from an STD like gonorrhea or another cause—it might manifest as :
STDs are a notorious cause of proctitis, which is associated with symptoms including rectal pain, discharge, bleeding, and diarrhea . Without treatment, proctitis may cause further complications like:
Although rarer than the health conditions listed above, unchecked gonorrhea may also result in :
Additionally, contracting gonorrhea heightens anyone’s risk of contracting HIV. In very rare instances, it may also result in what’s known as the Fitz-Hugh Curis syndrome—a liver condition that impacts fertility [3,13].
Gonorrhea may not always show the most obvious symptoms, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous than other STIs or health conditions. It's important to know how to treat gonorrhea for both your and your sexual partner's health. So if you suspect you’ve contracted an STI, you should schedule a test or check up right away.
But when it comes to your health and wellness, you want ultimate discretion. Here at Everlywell, we’re building a world where everyone can access insightful and life-changing lab tests. As a leading digital health company, we offer several different STI tests with sample collection at home and physician-reviewed results—including a gonorrhea test.