Gonorrhea causes no long-term problems if it is treated early in the course of the infection before any complications develop. Left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to serious complications.
Complications in women
Women with untreated gonorrhea may have the following complications of the Reference female reproductive system Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window:
- Reference Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) Opens New Window. The risk of infertility increases with each episode of PID.
- An Reference abscess Opens New Window in or near the ovaries (tubo-ovarian abscess)
- Inflammation of the Reference Bartholin glands Opens New Window
- An Reference ectopic (tubal) pregnancy Opens New Window
- Reference Chronic pelvic pain Opens New Window
- Reference Infertility Opens New Window
- Reference Fitz-Hugh–Curtis syndrome (rare)
Complications in pregnant women
Problems related to untreated gonorrhea in pregnant women include:
- The possibility of a miscarriage.
- Preterm labor. The woman may be given drugs to prevent premature birth, which could require a stay in the hospital.
- Reference Premature rupture of the membranes (PROM) Opens New Window, which happens before labor contractions start. The amniotic sac breaks open, causing amniotic fluid to gush out, or less commonly, to slowly leak.
- Premature delivery. A premature infant has an increased risk of health problems.
- Infection of the lining of the uterus (Reference endometritis Opens New Window).
If a woman has gonorrhea when she gives birth, her newborn can be infected.
Women with untreated gonorrhea and infected newborns are more likely to develop long-term complications of gonorrhea.
Complications in newborns
Newborns of women with untreated gonorrhea may have any of the following complications:
- Pinkeye (Reference conjunctivitis Opens New Window). Most newborns who have gonorrhea also get pinkeye.
- An infection in the bloodstream (Reference sepsis)
- Inflammation of a joint (Reference arthritis Opens New Window)
- Scalp infections at the site of a fetal monitoring device
- Infection of the fluid and tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord (Reference meningitis Opens New Window)
Complications in men
Men with untreated gonorrhea may develop:
- Reference Epididymitis Opens New Window, an inflammation and infection of the epididymis—the long, tightly coiled tube that lies behind each testicle and collects sperm.
- An inflammation of the prostate gland (Reference prostatitis Opens New Window).
Complications of untreated gonorrhea in other areas of the body
Disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI) occurs when the gonorrhea infection spreads to sites other than the genitals, such as the joints, skin, heart, or blood. Complications of DGI include:
- Skin infection (cellulitis).
- An infection in the bloodstream (sepsis).
- Inflammation of a joint (arthritis). It most often affects the knees and hands.
- An infection and inflammation of the heart valves and the chambers of the heart (Reference endocarditis Opens New Window).
- An infection of the fluid and tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).
Because many women do not have early symptoms of gonorrhea that cause them to seek treatment, they are more likely than men to have more serious complications from gonorrhea spreading to other parts of the body.
Having a gonorrhea infection once does not protect you from getting another infection in the future. A new exposure to gonorrhea will cause reinfection, even if you were previously treated and cured.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference August 20, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Reference Peter Shalit, MD, PhD - Internal Medicine