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What Is Gonorrhea And How Is It Treated?

Gonorrhea is a fairly common disease in the United States. According to the CDC, nearly 820,000 people are infected with Gonorrhea each year with less than half of these cases getting reported to concerned authorities.


Gonorrhea is a gonococcal infection that is transmitted through sexual contact. Unprotected oral, vaginal, and anal sex can all put an individual at risk of acquiring this infection. The bacteria like to reside in the warm areas of the body, which is why the most common sites of infections are the genital tracts, the eyes, and the throat in both men and women. Unlike many other STDs, Gonorrhea is curable with the right medication – if taken promptly and regularly.


While Gonorrhea is curable, a person may develop irreversible complications if treatment for this infection is delayed. However, before jumping to how Gonorrhea is treated, here is some information on the infection itself, its mode of transmission, and its infectivity.


AN OVERVIEW OF GONORRHEA & ITS SYMPTOMS

Gonorrhea is caused by a gonococcal bacteria: Neisseria Gonorrhea. Since it is an STD, all types of unprotected sex can predispose a person to develop a gonococcal infection. However, the good news is that Gonorrhea is completely treatable with the right medications.


As mentioned before, Neisseria Gonorrhea’s primary focus of infection resides in warm and moist parts of the human body. These areas usually include the eyes, throat, anus, and the entire genitourinary tract. Therefore, the symptoms are usually localized to these parts of the body.


Symptoms of Gonorrhea can be classified into common symptoms which occur in both men and women, and specific symptoms which are different for men and women because of the difference in their genital anatomy.


The onset of symptoms usually occurs 2 to 14 days after an individual contract the bacteria. Symptoms are generally mild and only become severe in a fraction of individuals. Most people never develop symptoms at any stage of their life after acquiring the infection. However, it is important to note that asymptomatic carriers of this disease can also pass on the infection to other people. Therefore, testing for Gonorrhea during the sexually active years of a person is imperative.


Symptoms in men

Many men may never show any symptoms after acquiring the disease. In most cases, symptoms are only mild in nature. The first symptom to appear is usually burning micturition – i.e. a burning sensation while peeing.


Other symptoms:

  • Frequent micturition – i.e. increased frequency of urination
  • Penile discharge which can be yellow, white, or even green in color
  • Swelling may appear at the opening of the penis
  • There may also be a swelling in the scrotum
  • Pain in the testicles
  • Watery eyes with purulent discharge
  • & a persistent sore throat


If left untreated, gonorrhea may go on to cause sterility in men.


Symptoms in women

Like in men, many women may never show any symptoms after first acquiring the infection. When symptoms appear, however, they can resemble other conditions of the vagina which can make the diagnosis somewhat difficult. In most cases, symptoms of Gonorrhea in women resemble those of a simple yeast or bacterial infection of the vagina.


Other symptoms include:

  • Vaginal discharge (can be white, yellow, or even green in color)
  • Burning micturition
  • Frequent micturition
  • Dyspareunia or painful sexual intercourse
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding or spotting 
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • & a persistent sore throat


If left untreated, Gonorrhea may go on to cause pelvic inflammatory disease in women which can then lead to infertility and other serious complications.


Fever, watery eyes, lethargy are some of the common symptoms which can develop in both men and women.


HOW DO DOCTORS DIAGNOSE GONORRHEA?

The diagnosis of Gonorrhea is fairly simple. It involves taking a careful history, conducting a physical examination, and ordering specialized tests to identify the causative agent for Gonorrhea.


Your doctor may ask a lot of questions about your sex life. They may ask about your last sexual intercourse, the number of partners you have been sexually active with, and the type of protection used (if any). Your doctor may also ask about your past medical history which may include questions about your health in general or about any similar symptoms that you may have noticed before.


A physical examination of the genital area may reveal important clues to your doctor. Your doctor may then take a sample with a swab directly from the penis or the vagina which is then examined under a microscope. These swab samples can also be taken from the rectum of the throat in case of a persistent sore throat.


If you have a joint infection which might be a complication of Gonorrhea, your doctor may insert a syringe directly into the joint cavity to collect some fluid for microscopic examination.


Blood tests can also confirm the diagnosis. Blood cultures usually provide a confirmatory diagnosis for Gonorrhea but they can take up to 3 or more days depending on the specific lab that is conducting your tests. 


IS GONORRHEA TREATABLE?

STDs have a notorious reputation of being untreatable. This reputation is somewhat justified as many of these diseases are in fact incurable. However, not every STD is without a cure and, thankfully, Gonorrhea is very much treatable with the right medications.


The treatment for Gonorrhea is divided into three categories: treatment for adults who have Gonorrhea, treatment for partners of adults who have Gonorrhea, and treatment for babies who may have acquired Gonorrhea during childbirth.


As this infection is caused by bacteria, the mainstay of treatment is antibiotics. However, due to increasing antibiotic resistance, treatment with antibiotics has to be supervised carefully by the physician. Any individual who has been diagnosed with Gonorrhea should complete their course of treatment to prevent heinous complications and also the development of antibiotic resistance which can complicate the treatment.


For adults – Uncomplicated Gonorrhea in adults is treated with a Cephalosporin antibiotic, usually Ceftriaxone, in injection form and an oral tablet of Azithromycin. In case a patient is allergic to Cephalosporin antibiotics, aminoglycosides like Gentamicin or fluoroquinolones like Gemifloxacin can be used instead.


For partners – Partner of adults who have Gonorrhea also receive treatment for the infection even if they never show any signs or symptoms. The treatment for partners remains largely the same.


For babies – Treatment for babies who may have acquired Gonorrhea through childbirth or sexual abuse varies largely depending on their weight. The drugs used in the treatment are largely the same as those used for adults.


Usually, a 7-day course is given to adults who have Gonorrhea. Once treatment is finished, adults should get tested 7 to 14 days after completion of treatment to see if their infection has been wiped out. A 3-month follow-up check is also recommended to ensure that there is no reinfection. Patients who have a persistent sore throat even after a few days of imitating treatment should immediately check with their doctor.


COMPLICATIONS OF GONORRHEA

Untreated Gonorrhea in men can progress to cause stricture formation in the urethra. It can also lead to pus formation in the urethra or scrotum which may then lead to infertility. While treatment for Gonorrhea is fairly simple, it does not reverse any permanent damage which may have been done by the infection.


Females usually experience much worse complications with Gonorrhea than men. Gonorrheal infections can ascend up to the female reproductive tract and involve the uterus, the fallopian tubes, and the ovaries. This is known as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) and it can result in complications like infertility and ectopic pregnancies.


Pregnant females with Gonococcal infections may also pass it onto the newborn during childbirth.


Complications like arthritis, heart valve damage, and meningitis are common in both men and women.


HOW TO PREVENT GONORRHEA?

The best way to protect yourself from Gonorrhea and many other sexually transmitted diseases is to use a barrier method of protection during sexual intercourse. Condoms are highly effective in keeping the disease-causing agents at bay. However, it is important to understand how to use a condom properly before it can provide any kind of protection during sexual intercourse.


Keeping the number of your sexual partners low can also help prevent this disease. Getting tested regularly and urging your partners to get tested regularly is a good way of staying protected from Gonorrhea.


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