In short, yes.

But in the majority of cases, gonorrhoea will not have any lasting effects if it is spotted early and treated before complications can develop.

On this page, we’ll look at some of the potential conditions that may arise if the infection is left untreated.

For women, these include:

For men:

And for both men and women:

Possible complications in women:

Pelvic inflammatory Disease (PID)

Around a quarter of PID cases occur as a consequence of gonorrhoea or chlamydia, according to the NHS.

In such cases, PID is the result of the infection travelling to the endometrium (the mucous membrane that lines the inside of the uterus) or the fallopian tubes (the tubes that lead from the ovaries to the uterus).

Symptoms of PID include:

  • lower abdominal pain
  • discharge
  • dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse)
  • intermenstrual or irregular menstrual bleeding
  • and fever.

However, for someone with PID, symptoms may not always be obvious.

The resulting inflammation can scar the fallopian tubes and cause:

  • long-term pelvic pain
  • ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy in which the embryo attaches outside the uterus)
  • and infertility.

So identifying the condition during its early stages and getting treatment is crucial.

Testing is conducted using a swab, and typically, a combination of antibiotics is used to tackle the infection. In other cases, someone with PID may need to be admitted to hospital for treatment if they have severe symptoms, or their risk of further complications is high.

Infection of the Skene and Bartholin’s glands

These two glands are involved in the secretion of vaginal fluids. When an infection spreads to these glands, it can cause abscesses to develop, resulting in pain, discharge and inflammation.

Perihepatitis (Fitz-Hugh-Curtis Syndrome)

Perihepatitis is the inflammation of the liver capsule (or Glisson’s capsule, a fibrous layer surrounding the liver) and adjacent peritoneum (cavity lining between organs in the abdomen).

It can occur when the bacterial infection responsible for PID is not treated and travels to these areas. It is characterized by pain in the right upper abdominal region (or quadrant).

Liver function tests are used to help identify the condition, which is again typically treated with antibiotics.

Gonorrhoea during pregnancy

Gonorrhoea can cause serious complications for women during pregnancy, increasing the risk of miscarriage and infection of the amniotic sac and fluid. This can, in turn, lead to preterm premature rupture of membranes and preterm (or premature) birth.

A gonorrhoea infection can also be transmitted to a newborn baby upon delivery. This occurs when the baby comes into contact with the mother’s secreted vagial fluids. In such cases, it’s possible for an infant to develop an infection of the bloodstream, meningitis or even blindness.

Seeing a doctor or GUM clinic as soon as possible is therefore absolutely vital. Testing and treatment during pregnancy may usually be administered in a similar manner, but special care may need to be taken when issuing antibiotics to ensure they are suitable.

Possible complications in men:

Epididymitis

This is the inflammation of the epididymis (the tube that lies behind each testicle and collects sperm).

Symptoms include unilateral testicular pain (pain only felt in one testicle) and swelling due to a buildup of fluid.

Although it is infrequent, it is also the most common local complication of gonorrhoea infection in males with urethritis (the swelling of the urethra).

It can usually be treated with antibiotics, and it will take around two weeks for the swelling to go down in most cases. Pain can be eased by taking ibuprofen and administering a cold pack to the groin.

Prostatitis

In some rare cases, gonorrhea can also cause prostatitis (an inflamed prostate). It is caused by bacteria in the urinary tract. It is more commonly the result of a urinary tract infection, but can occur due to bacterial STIs such as gonorrhoea.

Symptoms may include:

  • pain around the genitals
  • problems passing urine
  • or discharge.

Once more, antibiotics are usually issued to tackle the infection, but if symptoms are severe, treatment in hospital may be required.

Possible complications in both women and men:

DGI

Gonorrhoea can also spread to other areas of the body. This is called a disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI) and only occurs in 0.5-3% of cases. Examples of DGI might be where the infection spreads to the the joints, skin, heart, or blood.

Depending on the area affected, DGI may cause symptoms such as:

  • fever
  • skin infection or abscesses
  • or joint inflammation (arthritis)

The areas of the body where it tends to be most prevalent are the knees and hands.

DGI can also lead to an infection and inflammation of the heart valves and the chambers of the heart, and very rarely in the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Getting tested

As we've written elsewhere, getting tested and, if necessary, treated early drastically reduces the risk of complications developing.

If you think you may have come into contact with an STI, you can get tested by visiting your local GUM clinic, seeing your GP, or ordering a test kit online.

Page last reviewed:  14/05/2018