Gonorrhea and Fertility
Gonorrhea, a common sexually transmitted disease (STD), is named after the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Gonorrhea affects both men and women. Anyone who is sexually active can be infected with Gonorrhea. Its highest rate of incidence is among sexually active teenagers.
Gonorrhea can grow in the mouth, throat, eyes, and anus, but most importantly it spreads easily in the moist areas of the reproductive tract. For women this includes the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes, and for both men and women the urethra.
Most often there are no external symptoms of Gonorrhea infection. If there are early symptoms they may in men take the form of a burning sensation when urinating, painful or swollen testicles, or a white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis. Women might experience abnormal vaginal discharge, a burning sensation when urinating, or bleeding between periods or after intercourse.
In the case of rectal Gonorrhea, symptoms for both men and women can include anal itching, soreness, bleeding, discharge, or painful bowel movements. Gonorrhea in the throat may manifest in a sore throat, but usually there are no external symptoms.
If left undetected and untreated, Gonorrhea can ultimately give rise to serious health problems, including infertility.
How Gonorrhea Affects Fertility
When Gonorrhea is untreated, one of the most serious repercussions for women is an infection in the upper reproductive tract known as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). PID can cause abdominal pain and fever, internal abscesses, and can spread to and damage the fallopian tubes, which then become blocked. Ultimately these problems can result in infertility or in an ectopic or tubal pregnancy.
During an ectopic or tubal pregnancy, fertilization takes place in the fallopian tubes instead of in the uterus, causing chronic pelvic pain and even possible death. Moreover, each episode of PID increases a woman's risk of becoming infertile.
How Gonorrhea Affects Pregnant Women
If a woman with untreated Gonorrhea becomes pregnant, the health of her baby is at risk. Gonorrhea can be transmitted to the baby during childbirth, making the baby prone to a host of health complications. Gonorrhea during pregnancy is highly associated with infant eye infection, blindness, joint infection, or a life-threatening blood infection.
How Gonorrhea Affects Men
Gonorrhea infections that are undetected and untreated in men can give rise to epididymitis - an infection in the ducts attached to testicles where sperm mature. Epididymitis can cause shrinking of the infected testicle, abscesses, and infected sores in the surrounding scrotum area. As with women, Gonorrhea in men can ultimately lead to infertility.
How To Detect Gonorrhea
Gonorrhea infection can be diagnosed via laboratory testing of a swab from the suspected infected area - i.e., the rectum, throat, cervix, or urethra. The latter can also be diagnosed via a urine sample. Another laboratory test is a Gram stain. A Gram stain, or a sample from a urethra or a cervix, is looked at under a microscope for evidence of the Gonorrhea bacterium.
Treatment For Gonorrhea
The good news is that Gonorrhea can be simply treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications, provided men and women get screened for the infection. Note that couples should abstain from sexual intercourse during this time. People who test positive for Gonorrhea should be tested for other STDs as well. The Center for Disease Control recommends annual screening for STDS such as Gonorrhea and Chlamydia.