The Call-On-Doc Guide to Gonorrhea

Published on Jul 18, 2023 | 10:51 AM

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Informally known as “the clap,” gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. One of the most common STIs, second behind chlamydia, gonorrhea cases have constantly risen year over year since 2009. (1) 

Due to a majority of cases going without noticeable symptoms, it's suspected that reported cases only make up a fraction of a much greater number. In addition, those who are younger and more sexually active are less likely to practice safe sex, therefore being more prone to gonorrhea transmission and may not be informed about the symptoms.

What causes gonorrhea to start?

Like other STDs, how gonorrhea is transmitted depends on whether one of those in a sexual act is infected. Infecting the mucous membranes of men and women before expanding to other parts of the body, the infection then spreads from person to person when the infected person becomes sexually active. In most cases, infected individuals will not know they are carriers until receiving a gonorrhea test. (3)

The most common way gonorrhea is transmitted is through unprotected sex, more specifically through semen or vaginal fluid. However, the spread is not isolated to vaginal sex, but rather it can also gain entry through the anus and mouth. Additionally, in the event of unprotected sex, the bacteria does not need either person to climax in order to spread and can also do so when unwashed or unprotected sex toys are shared. (4)

The infection can also be further spread by a person’s hands when coming into contact with infected bodily fluids. By this mode of transmission, a person’s eyes and mouth can also be infected. However, as is the case for a person’s hands and sex toys, the bacteria can only last for about a minute outside of parts of the human body before deteriorating and dying. (5)


Can you spread gonorrhea non-sexually?

Aside from sexual contact, a mother with an untreated case of gonorrhea can pass on the infection to their newborn at the point of birth. (5) Children with this infection may develop health complications early on that can be life-threatening and long-term. (3)


Gonnorhea for men vs women

Gonnorhea without symptoms is extremely common, with some studies getting nearly 90% of cases showing no signs of the infection until they receive a confirmation via gonorrhea test. If symptoms are to show up, they will do so in 1 to 14 days after the infection, though some cases have reported it taking as long as 30 days. 

Learn more in a past CallonDoc article titled “Facts About Gonorrhea.”


How long does it take for gonorrhea to cause serious problems?

When gonorrhea is left untreated, it can lead to various consequences and complications. Here are some of the potential outcomes of untreated gonorrhea:

  1. Spread of infection: Untreated gonorrhea can continue to spread within the body and potentially infect other parts of the reproductive system, urinary tract, and beyond. This can result in more extensive damage and increase the risk of complications.
  2. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: One of the most significant risks of untreated gonorrhea in women is the development of PID. PID is an infection of the female reproductive organs, including the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It can cause severe pelvic pain, chronic pelvic inflammation, and can lead to long-term complications such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain.
  3. Infertility: Both men and women can experience infertility as a consequence of untreated gonorrhea. In women, the infection can lead to scarring and blockages in the fallopian tubes, making it difficult for the egg to be fertilized or for a fertilized egg to reach the uterus. In men, untreated gonorrhea can result in epididymitis, damaging the epididymis and potentially leading to infertility.
  4. Increased susceptibility to other infections: Untreated gonorrhea weakens the immune system and can make individuals more susceptible to other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV/AIDS.
  5. Disseminated Gonococcal Infection (DGI): In rare cases, gonorrhea can spread throughout the body, causing a systemic infection known as DGI. This can lead to symptoms such as joint pain, skin rash, fever, and inflammation in various organs.

How do doctors know if you have gonorrhea?

Typically, a doctor may provide a physical examination to determine the severity and rule out other conditions or infections. However, a doctor will more often conduct one of the following gonorrhea tests after asking a few questions. 

  1. Swab test: A swab sample may be taken from the urethra in men or the cervix in women to collect cells or discharge for laboratory testing. This can help detect the presence of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacterium that causes gonorrhea.
  2. Urine test: For both men and women, a urine sample may be collected and sent to the laboratory for testing. The urine test can detect the presence of the gonorrhea bacteria in the urinary tract.

If you or your partner suspect you might have more than one infection or are unsure if you have gonorrhea, chlamydia, or Trichomoniasis due to the similarities in symptoms, CallonDoc offers multi-treatment options to make sure the infection is cured. 

What is the best treatment for gonorrhea?

Due to it being caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, gonorrhea is most affected by antibiotics designed to inhibit further growth and kill the infection. There is currently no other at-home or medical method that takes care of the infection at the same level the following antibiotics do: 

  • Azithromycin: Treats gonorrhea by inhibiting the growth and reproduction of the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria, ultimately eliminating the infection and alleviating symptoms.
  • Doxycycline: Suppresses the growth and replication of the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria, effectively eliminating the infection and reducing associated symptoms.
  • Cefpodoxime: Interferes with the synthesis of the bacterial cell wall in Neisseria gonorrhoeae, disrupting the bacteria's structure and function.
  • Cefixime: Treats gonorrhea by inhibiting the growth of Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria by interfering with the bacteria's ability to form cell walls, ultimately leading to bacterial death and the elimination of the infection.
  • Ciprofloxacin: Interferes with the replication and DNA synthesis processes of Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria. This action inhibits the bacteria's ability to grow and survive, eliminating the infection and relieving associated symptoms.

In addition to being put on antibiotics, we suggest those getting treated for gonorrhea get tested for it around three weeks after treatment has concluded. While gonorrhea treatment is known to be effective, not following the specific regimen or getting reintroduced to the bacteria may allow for reinfection. 

Can gonorrhea be cured?

With the current antibiotics present, gonorrhea can be cured with the right treatment and steps. Gonorrhea treatment thereby works to rid the body of the infection by targeting and eliminating the bacteria causing the infection. When antibiotics are administered, they either directly kill the bacteria or inhibit their growth and replication.

As the antibiotics take effect, they target the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria present in the infected areas of the body, such as the genital tract. The antibiotics penetrate the bacterial cells or inhibit their ability to multiply, leading to the destruction or suppression of the bacteria.

Throughout the gonorrhea treatment, the antibiotics will continuously reduce the bacterial load in the body. As a result, the infection will become too weak to grow, then be eradicated and removed by the body. 

Why is gonorrhea called the clap?

"The clap" is an informal name or slang for gonorrhea. The origin of this nickname is not entirely clear, but there are two running theories.

The first suggests that "the clap" may have originated from the old French word "clapier," which means a brothel. The term may have been used to refer to gonorrhea because the infection was commonly associated with the promiscuous behavior often found in brothels.

The second suggests that "the clap" may have originated from the treatment method used in the past. It is believed that patients with gonorrhea were subjected to a painful technique known as "clapping," in which the penis was vigorously slapped to express the discharge and cleanse the urethra.

How do you manage gonorrhea symptoms?

On top of taking the gonorrhea antibiotics as directed, there are some steps you can take to alleviate discomfort and promote your body’s natural way of healing. Here are some ways to do so that help manage your symptoms: 

  • Pain relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help reduce pain and discomfort associated with gonorrhea symptoms, such as genital or pelvic pain. Always follow the recommended dosage instructions and consult a healthcare professional if you have any concerns or medical conditions that may affect the use of these medications.
  • Warm compress: Applying a warm compress or taking warm baths can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation in the affected area. However, avoid excessive heat, as it can worsen symptoms.
  • Rest and self-care: It's essential to rest and look after your overall health while undergoing treatment for gonorrhea. Get plenty of rest, maintain a healthy diet, stay hydrated, and avoid activities that may exacerbate symptoms or delay healing.
  • Avoid sexual activity: During the treatment period, it is vital to abstain from sexual activity or use barrier methods (such as condoms) to prevent transmission to partners. This helps prevent reinfection and the spread of the infection to others.

Can gonorrhea heal on its own?

As a bacterial infection, gonorrhea will not simply go away. It might go dormant and produce reduced or no symptoms, but it can flare back up. Additionally, opting out of gonorrhea treatment will likely cause it to progress further into the body, with symptoms worsening over time with the STI. 

How do you stop gonorrhea before it starts?

Practice safe sex: Consistently and correctly using latex or polyurethane condoms during sexual intercourse can significantly reduce the risk of contracting gonorrhea. However, it's important to note that condoms may not provide complete protection, as the infection can still be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact in areas not covered by the condom.

Limit sexual partners: Engaging in sexual activity with a limited number of partners and maintaining a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has tested negative for gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can help reduce the risk of infection.

Get tested regularly: Regular testing for STIs, including gonorrhea, is crucial, especially if you are sexually active or have multiple partners. Testing allows for early detection and prompt treatment if an infection is detected. It's important to note that some individuals infected with gonorrhea may not exhibit symptoms, so testing is essential even in the absence of noticeable signs.

Communicate with partners: Open and honest communication with sexual partners about STI testing, history, and prevention methods is vital for reducing the risk of gonorrhea transmission. Discussing and mutually agreeing upon safe sex practices can help protect both partners.

Prevention through abstinence: Abstaining from sexual activity, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex, eliminates the risk of gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted infections.

It's important to note that these preventive measures may not provide 100% protection against gonorrhea, as the infection can still be transmitted in certain circumstances. Regular testing, open communication, and safe sexual practices remain essential components of preventing gonorrhea alongside other STDs and STIs. However, if you suspect that you might have gonorrhea, get treated or tested with CallonDoc today. Our unique system provides a quick, discreet, and affordable way to get same-day treatment if you are experiencing symptoms and 50% off treatment for your partner to keep you both clear and safe. If needed, lab testing is also offered by CallonDoc; both at-home test kits and in-person labs are available for your preference and convenience.


  1. “National Overview of STDs, 2021 - National Overview.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home.
  2. “Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 2021.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/covid19/index.htm.
  3. “Detailed STD Facts - Gonorrhea.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea-detailed.htm.
  4. “Gonorrhea: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention.” Cleveland Clinic, 2 September 2022, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4217-gonorrhea.
  5. “Gonorrhea.” SDSU, Health Matters SDSU Student Health Services, https://sacd.sdsu.edu/_resources/files/well-being/03747-Gonorrhea_06-2013.pdf.

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Wayne C. Hahne,

English graduate and Call-On-Doc’s medical resource guide, Wayne C. Hahne is an experienced and passionate medical education content expert. Through diligent research, provider interviews and utilizing the industry's leading resources for wellness information, it is Mr. Hahne’s personal mission to educate the general public on medical conditions with in-depth and easy-to-understand written guides.

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