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Gonorrhea in Females: Teen Version

What is gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted disease. Popular names for gonorrhea are clap, drip, dose, and strain.

What is the cause?

Gonorrhea is caused by bacteria. The infection is passed from person to person during sex. It is very contagious. The bacteria can enter the body through any body opening, such as the mouth, vagina, penis, or rectum.

In women, the infection usually starts in the cervix. (The cervix is the opening of the uterus inside the vagina.) The bacteria may also infect the throat or rectum during oral or anal sex.

What are the symptoms?

Many women infected with gonorrhea don’t have any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they usually start 2 to 10 days after you were exposed to the disease. Symptoms of gonorrhea include:

  • Thick, creamy, yellow discharge from the vagina
  • Burning or pain when you urinate
  • Bleeding or spotting between periods
  • Menstrual periods that are heavier than usual
  • Pain in your belly
  • Pain during sex
  • Fever

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your recent medical history, including sexual activity. Important questions are whether you use condoms or other forms of birth control and whether you or your partner have other sexual partners.

You should have an abdominal and pelvic exam to see where the infection may have spread. Your healthcare provider will be able to tell if your uterus, ovaries, or fallopian tubes are tender and possibly infected.

Other infections can cause symptoms similar to gonorrhea. Tests of urine or discharge from the cervix can help your provider know more about the bacteria causing the infection. The tests of discharge can also tell your provider which antibiotics are best for treating the infection. This is important because some gonorrhea bacteria are becoming resistant to the antibiotics usually used to treat the infection.

How is it treated?

Gonorrhea is treated with antibiotic medicine, usually given as a shot. Many people with gonorrhea also have chlamydia (another sexually transmitted disease). Because of this, you may be given more than 1 medicine so that both infections are treated.

If the infection has spread to your uterus and ovaries, you may need IV medicine. Depending on how sick you are, you may get the medicine as an outpatient or in the hospital.

Tell your sexual partner or partners about their risk of infection. They should also be treated even if they don't have symptoms.

Cases of gonorrhea are required by law to be reported to the local health department. The clinic staff will ask about your sexual partners. They will be told that they have had contact with someone who has gonorrhea. This will help them get prompt treatment for the infection. (Your name will not be given.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) follow these infections so they can find epidemics in the early stages. This allows the CDC to take steps to prevent new infections and to get as many people as possible checked and treated.

How long will the effects last?

If only the cervix is infected, proper treatment should clear up the infection in about 10 days.

If it is not treated, gonorrhea can spread through the uterus to the fallopian tubes and ovaries, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause:

  • Abdominal pain, which can become a long-term problem
  • Infertility (a loss of the ability to have children)
  • A higher risk of tubal pregnancy, which is a pregnancy outside the uterus (a dangerous condition requiring emergency surgery)

Gonorrhea that is not treated may spread into the bloodstream and other parts of the body.

  • It may infect the joints and cause pain and swelling (arthritis).
  • It may spread to the brain and cause meningitis.
  • It may infect the heart, causing endocarditis.
  • It might cause death.

A baby can be infected during childbirth if the mother has gonorrhea. When the baby passes through the birth canal, the bacteria can infect the baby's eyes.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Follow the full treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. Be sure to take your medicine for as long as it is prescribed, even if your symptoms are gone before you are done taking it. If you are pregnant, ask if there are any special precautions you should take.
  • Take aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen for pain.
    • If you are pregnant, ask your healthcare provider which of these medicines you should take.
    • Check with your healthcare provider before you give any medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen. This includes medicines like baby aspirin, some cold medicines, and Pepto-Bismol. Children and teens who take aspirin are at risk for a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days for any reason.
  • Tell everyone with whom you have had sex in the last 3 months about your infection. Or you can ask the clinic staff to tell them. Your name will not be used. Your sexual contacts need to be treated even if they don’t have any symptoms. Don’t have sex until both you and your partner have finished all of the medicine and your provider says it's OK. Then always use condoms during foreplay and oral, vaginal, and anal sex.
  • Ask your provider if you have been tested for other sexually transmitted diseases that you may have gotten when you were infected with gonorrhea.
  • Ask your healthcare provider:
    • How and when you will hear your test results
    • What other STDs you should be tested for
    • How long it will take to recover from this illness
    • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to normal activities
    • When it is safe to start having sex again
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent gonorrhea?

  • Make sure you tell your sexual partner(s) that they have been exposed to gonorrhea. They need to be treated.
  • Reduce the risk of infection by always using latex or polyurethane condoms during foreplay and vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
  • Have just 1 sexual partner who is not sexually active with anyone else. Make sure your partner has been tested for gonorrhea and other infections.
  • If you have had sex without a condom and are worried that you may have been infected, see your healthcare provider even if you don’t have any symptoms.
  • If you have been raped and are at risk of having been infected, you should be treated to prevent sexually transmitted infections. You should have an exam within a few hours of the rape (and before showering or bathing) even if you don’t want to press charges. You can also ask about being protected from pregnancy when you have the exam.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-02-11
Last reviewed: 2013-01-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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