Don’t let these sneaky symptoms catch you out
By Angela Haupt
Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted via any kind of sex – oral, anal, or vaginal – and is thought to be the second most common STI in the UK (after Chlamydia).
It’s recommended all sexually active women under the age of 25 get screened for gonorrhoea annually, and that women who are older but have new or multiple sex partners continue that yearly testing.
Testing is really important because gonorrhoea often occurs without any symptoms, according to Elizabeth Torrone, Ph.D., a team lead in the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of STD Prevention. “But the infection could still be causing complications,” she says. “It could be leading to long-term reproductive health consequences like infertility, which isn’t necessarily tied to gonorrhoea symptoms.”
That’s why it’s important to know what gonorrhea symptoms in women look like — just in case you get infected between testings. Here are eight warning signs that should send you straight to your doctor.
1. It burns when you pee
Yelping “ouch” when you go to the bathroom isn’t normal. It’s a sign of a number of down-there infections, sexually transmitted and otherwise, explains Okeoma Mmeje, an ob-gyn. It comes down to inflammation in your genital area and urinary tract, she says, adding that this sign of gonorrhoea warrants an immediate call to your doc.
2. Your pelvis aches
“Some women may have a dull, aching pelvic pain that’s distinctly different from premenstrual symptoms or cramps,” Mmeje says. If it doesn’t go away with ibuprofen or Tylenol, take note and get checked out.
3. There’s more discharge in your underwear than usual
Abnormal or increased discharge is one of the main symptoms of gonorrhoea in women, Mmeje says. “It could be an increase in volume or it could have a greenish hue to it,” she says, “and sometimes there may be an odour, too.”
4. You’re spotting between periods
Gonorrhoea symptoms in women include bleeding between periods. “That’s because the cervix may be inflamed from the infection,” Mmeje says. If you notice this, go to your primary-care doctor or gynaecologist, who can figure out if gonorrhoea, another STI, or other lady-part issue is causing it.
5. You’re bleeding during or after sex
Again, an inflamed cervix bleeds, Mmeje says, noting that, during deep vaginal penetration, the penis (vibrator or other toy) can come into contact with the inflamed tissue, triggering bleeding. She recommends talking to your gynaecologist — stat. Multiple issues, including (of course) gonorrhoea, can contribute to bleeding.
6. Sex hurts
Speaking of sex: “This can vary between mild discomfort to a sharper, stabbing pain,” says Jennifer Wider, M.D., who’s based in New York. She notes that gonorrhoea can inflame the tissues of the vagina and cervix, making them extra sensitive. “Because there are a variety of causes for this symptom, it’s very important for women who have had unprotected sex or potential exposure to an STD go get tested,” she says.
7. You’ve got a scratchy throat that won’t go away
This sign of gonorrhoea is not altogether common, but it can happen, Torrone says. After all, it is possible to contract gonorrhoea through giving oral sex. If that happens, the same inflammation that can affect your vagina and cervix can also affect your throat. Obviously, sore throats are more often related to the common cold, but if your sore throat just won’t go away, definitely talk to your GP.
8. Your anus is angry
Last but not least, gonorrhoea symptoms can show up in the anus. That is, if you’ve had anal sex with an infected person, Torrone says. “They very likely won’t have any idea they’re infected, but they could have inflammation of the lining of the rectum, and that can cause some pain,” she says. “They could have rectum discharge, as well.” Again, talking to your doctor and regular testing makes best practice when it comes to preventing or treating and STI.