Gonorrhea is caused by bacteria. It spreads during oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected partner. Someone with gonorrhea can also pass the infection to a baby during childbirth.

Risk Factors

Gonorrhea is most common among sexually active young adults. The risk of STIs is higher in those with:

  • A current STI or a history of an STI
  • A new sex partner
  • More than one sex partner
  • A sex partner with an STI

It is also more common in people who do not use condoms or do not use them properly.



Most people who have gonorrhea do not have symptoms. If they do have symptoms, they may appear 1 to 14 days after exposure. Some may not have symptoms for a month.

Genital problems may include:

  • Discharge from the penis
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge or unusual vaginal bleeding
  • Belly pain
  • Burning when passing urine
  • Itching

Rectal symptoms may be:

  • Itching
  • Soreness
  • Bleeding
  • Painful stools
Female Reproductive System Organs
Female Reproductive Organs
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Untreated gonorrhea can cause severe infections in the:

  • Joints
  • Brain
  • Eyes
  • Heart


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. This may be enough to suspect an STI.

Testing will be done to screen people who are at high risk. A sample of fluids may be taken from one of the following:

  • Vagina or penis
  • Throat
  • Rectum
  • Urine



Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotics. All sex partners should be tested and treated.

Many forms of gonorrhea are resistant to common antibiotics. Other antibiotics will be tried to treat the infection. Testing will help to make sure the infection has been stopped.


To lower the risk of gonorrhea:

  • Abstain from sex.
  • Have sex with only one partner.
  • Use a latex condom during sex.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.