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Gonorrhea Testing

Staying on top of your sexual health is one of the most critical actions you can take to maintain a healthy lifestyle. A sexually transmitted infection (STI) known as gonorrhea is common among sexually active people, and it can have health consequences if not detected and treated.

Here’s a primer on gonorrhea testing, including types of gonorrhea tests, what to expect during a gonorrhea test, and frequently asked questions.

Who should be tested for gonorrhea?

If you’re a sexually active woman under the age of 25, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you get tested for gonorrhea yearly. 

If you’re a sexually active woman older than 25, you should be tested yearly if you have certain risk factors for gonorrhea, such as a new sexual partner or multiple sexual partners. 

According to the CDC, people with other risk factors (such as being a sexually active gay or bisexual male who has sex with men) may need more frequent gonorrhea testing, such as every 3 to 6 months. In addition, if you’re pregnant, then a healthcare provider should also test you for gonorrhea at least once during your pregnancy.

Outside of these recommended screenings, if you’re a woman, the CDC notes that you should also get tested for gonorrhea if you are sexually active and have been having specific symptoms of gonorrhea—such as vaginal discharge, painful sexual intercourse, abdominal pain, bleeding in between periods, or painful urination—without a better alternative explanation. 

Symptoms of gonorrhea that may prompt testing in men include tender or painful testicles, scrotal swelling, pain with urination, or penile discharge.

According to the CDC, another reason to get tested for gonorrhea is if a partner has informed you that they have tested positive for the illness. Some people with gonorrhea may have no symptoms of the disease, so if you’ve had sexual intercourse with someone with active gonorrhea, you may have contracted the illness even if you’re not having current symptoms of the disease.

How to get tested for gonorrhea

A common way to get tested for gonorrhea is to visit a healthcare provider. 

During your visit, your healthcare provider may ask questions about your history of illness, including the symptoms you’ve been having (if any) and any potential exposures or activities that increase your likelihood of having gonorrhea. Depending on the conversation, your healthcare provider may recommend testing for gonorrhea in other areas of the body besides the genital area where you could also have an infection, such as your rectum or throat.

Sometimes, a gonorrhea test can be performed remotely via an at-home testing kit. In this case, a self-swab is conducted and sent to a lab. A clinician can then virtually discuss results and prescribe medications if needed.

What to expect during a gonorrhea test

The bacteria that cause gonorrhea infections can be detected through a couple of different types of gonorrhea tests.

For women, a healthcare provider may collect a swab from the cervix to look for the presence of gonorrhea. This exam would entail lying flat on an exam table, with knees bent and feet resting in stirrups, which is the same posture used during a routine pelvic exam. A healthcare provider will use a special tool called a speculum to visualize the cervix and collect the sample with a testing swab.

For men, a gonorrhea testing swab can be applied at the opening of the urethra (the tip of the penis). For both women and men, a healthcare provider may also collect a urine specimen to check for gonorrhea.

A gonorrhea test may also check for gonorrhea in your throat, anus, or rectal area, depending on your risk factors. According to experts at the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), in about 90 percent of cases, rectal and anal gonorrhea infections are asymptomatic. Gonorrheal throat or mouth infections may cause soreness or redness. For both men and women, this type of collection would involve a testing swab applied to the rectum, anus, or throat.

Testing positive for gonorrhea

If you test positive for gonorrhea, it means that the specimen that was collected by your healthcare provider (whether via a swab or a urine sample) showed the presence of the gonorrhea bacteria. This means that you have a gonorrhea infection.

When you test positive for gonorrhea, it is important to get treated using antibiotics, recommends the CDC. Getting treated can help cure the disease. It can also help you avoid the future consequences of an untreated gonorrhea infection, such as the infection spreading to other areas of your body or causing you to have difficulties in the future, such as chronic pelvic or abdominal pain or challenges with conceiving a pregnancy.

When you are treated for gonorrhea infection, a healthcare provider may also recommend that you get treated for chlamydia because this is another common sexually transmitted infection that can coexist with a gonorrhea infection, notes the CDC. It will be essential to take the full course of antibiotics to ensure that your body has the tools it needs to fight the infection. Your sexual partner should also be treated in accordance with CDC reccomendations for partner testing.

In some cases, gonorrhea has become resistant to treatment with certain antibiotics, notes the CDC. For this reason, it’s important to follow up with your healthcare provider if you’re still having symptoms 7 to 14 days after treatment. According to the CDC, a “test of cure” is not necessary for gonorrhea if you have completed your antibiotics for a vaginal, penile, or rectal infection and are no longer having symptoms. However, if you’ve been treated for a gonorrheal throat infection, a test-of-cure 7 to 14 days later is recommended. If you have tested positive for gonorrhea, the CDC recommends re-testing after three months to make sure you haven’t been infected again.

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Gonorrhea Testing FAQs

Sources

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

  1. Which STD Tests Should I Get? (December 14, 2021).
    https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/screeningreccs.htm
  2. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Control Branch. (August 19, 2022)
    https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Gonorrhea.aspx
  3. Gonorrhea Fast Facts. (2022).
    https://www.ashasexualhealth.org/gonorrhea
  4. Gonorrhea – CDC Detailed Fact Sheet. (April 12, 2022).
    https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea-detailed.htm
  5. Gonorrhea Treatment and Care. (April 12, 2022).
    https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/treatment.htm
  6. Gonorrhea Test. (December 3, 2020).
    https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/gonorrhea-test/
  7. STI screening timetable. (2022).
    https://health.uoregon.edu/files/STIscreeningtimetable.pdf

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