Gonorrhea in Women

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection caused by the organism Neisseria gonorrheae that is transmitted by sexual contact. Gonorrhea is one of the oldest known sexually transmitted diseases. Among individuals who are infected with gonorrhea, 50% to 70% also will be infected with chlamydia, another type of bacteria that causes another STD.

Contrary to popular belief, gonorrhea cannot be transmitted from toilet seats or door handles. The bacterium that causes gonorrhea requires very specific conditions for growth and reproduction. It cannot live outside the body for more than a few seconds or minutes, nor can it live on the skin of the hands, arms, or legs. It survives only on moist surfaces within the body and is found most commonly in the vagina, and, more commonly, the cervix. (The cervix is the end of the uterus that protrudes into the vagina.) It can also live in the tube (urethra) through which urine drains from the bladder. Gonorrhea can even exist in the back of the throat (from oral-genital contact) and in the rectum.

What are the symptoms of gonorrhea?

Most infected women have no symptoms, especially in the early stages of the infection. Symptoms of gonorrhea include burning or frequent urination, a yellowish vaginal discharge, redness and swelling of the genitals, and a burning or itching of the vaginal area. If untreated, gonorrhea can lead to a severe pelvic infection with inflammation of the Fallopian tubes and ovaries. Gonorrheal infection of the Fallopian tubes can lead to a serious, painful infection of the pelvis known as pelvic inflammatory disease or PID. PID occurs in 10%-40% of women with gonorrheal infection of the uterine cervix. Symptoms of pelvic infection include fever, pelvic cramping, abdominal pain, or pain with intercourse. Pelvic infection can lead to difficulty in becoming pregnant or even sterility because of tubal damage or obstruction. Occasionally, if the infection is severe enough, a localized area of infection and pus (an abscess) forms (tubo-ovarian abscess) that can be life-threatening, and major surgery may be necessary. Gonorrhea infections in people with conditions causing seriously depressed immune function, such as AIDS or immunosuppressive treatments, can be even more serious.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/26/2016
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