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JAMA Patient Page
January 9, 2013


JAMA. 2013;309(2):196. doi:10.1001/2012.jama.10802

Gonorrhea, one of the common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), is caused by a bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Along with diseases like syphilis, chlamydia, human papillomavirus, hepatitis B, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), gonorrhea is spread through sexual activity. Gonorrhea can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby. If untreated, gonorrhea can develop into a more serious infection called pelvic inflammatory disease.


  • Gonorrhea may not have any symptoms. You may not know you have been infected.

  • Discharge from the penis, vagina, or anus

  • Vaginal bleeding

  • Painful urination

  • Pain in the testicles

  • Pelvic or lower abdominal pain

  • Arthritis can be caused by gonorrheal infection.

  • Gonorrhea can exist with other STDs, making it unclear which infection is causing the symptoms.


Sampling a discharge or swabbing the penis, rectum, or vagina is done to test for the presence of N gonorrhoeae. Tests for bacterial genes (DNA) can be done, even from a urine sample. Culture of the bacteria may be helpful so that antibiotic resistance testing can take place.


  • The only ways to entirely prevent getting gonorrhea are abstinence from sexual activity (having no sexual contact) or having a monogamous sexual relationship with a person who has tested negative for gonorrhea.

  • Condoms help prevent gonorrhea from spreading but are not 100% effective. Condoms should always be used for any vaginal, anal, and oral-genital sexual activity unless you have a single partner who has been tested.

  • Persons in high-risk groups for HIV infection also have a high rate of gonorrhea infection. Having gonorrhea may make you more likely to contract HIV if you are exposed.

  • Silver nitrate drops are placed in newborn infants' eyes after birth to prevent gonorrheal eye infection from the birth process, in case the mother is infected and does not know it.


Uncomplicated gonorrhea is usually treated with 1 dose of antibiotics, by either injection or pills. It is important to take the antibiotics prescribed by your doctor as directed. The bacteria that cause gonorrhea have become resistant to several antibiotics that were used in the past. Your sexual partners must be told that you have gonorrhea so they can be tested and receive treatment.



To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page index on JAMA 's website at Many are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on syphilis was published in the February 18, 2009, issue and one on human papillomavirus infection was published in the February 28, 2007, issue.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.