Symptoms and causes


In many cases, gonorrhea infection causes no symptoms. When symptoms do appear, gonorrhea infection can affect multiple sites in your body, but it commonly appears in the genital tract.

Gonorrhea affecting the genital tract

Signs and symptoms of gonorrhea infection in men include:

  • Painful urination
  • Pus-like discharge from the tip of the penis
  • Pain or swelling in one testicle

Signs and symptoms of gonorrhea infection in women include:

  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Painful urination
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods, such as after vaginal intercourse
  • Painful intercourse
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain

Gonorrhea at other sites in the body

Gonorrhea can also affect these parts of the body:

  • Rectum. Signs and symptoms include anal itching, pus-like discharge from the rectum, spots of bright red blood on toilet tissue and having to strain during bowel movements.
  • Eyes. Gonorrhea that affects your eyes may cause eye pain, sensitivity to light, and pus-like discharge from one or both eyes.
  • Throat. Signs and symptoms of a throat infection may include a sore throat and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
  • Joints. If one or more joints become infected by bacteria (septic arthritis), the affected joints may be warm, red, swollen and extremely painful, especially when you move an affected joint.

When to see your doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any troubling signs or symptoms, such as a burning sensation when you urinate or a pus-like discharge from your penis, vagina or rectum.

Also make an appointment with your doctor if your partner has been diagnosed with gonorrhea. You may not experience signs or symptoms that prompt you to seek medical attention. But without treatment, you can reinfect your partner even after he or she has been treated for gonorrhea.


Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The gonorrhea bacteria are most often passed from one person to another during sexual contact, including oral, anal or vaginal intercourse.

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of gonorrhea infection include:

  • Younger age
  • A new sex partner
  • A sex partner who has concurrent partners
  • Multiple sex partners
  • Previous gonorrhea diagnosis
  • Having other sexually transmitted infections


Untreated gonorrhea can lead to significant complications, such as:

  • Infertility in women. Untreated gonorrhea can spread into the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which may result in scarring of the tubes, greater risk of pregnancy complications and infertility. PID is a serious infection that requires immediate treatment.
  • Infertility in men. Men with untreated gonorrhea can experience epididymitis — inflammation of a small, coiled tube in the rear portion of the testicles where the sperm ducts are located (epididymis). Epididymitis is treatable, but if left untreated, it may lead to infertility.
  • Infection that spreads to the joints and other areas of your body. The bacterium that causes gonorrhea can spread through the bloodstream and infect other parts of your body, including your joints. Fever, rash, skin sores, joint pain, swelling and stiffness are possible results.
  • Increased risk of HIV/AIDS. Having gonorrhea makes you more susceptible to infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that leads to AIDS. People who have both gonorrhea and HIV are able to pass both diseases more readily to their partners.
  • Complications in babies. Babies who contract gonorrhea from their mothers during birth can develop blindness, sores on the scalp and infections.