Long-Term Effects of Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), also known as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It is caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium. In 2020, 677,769 cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), making it the second most common STI that year.

It is important to understand that the number of gonorrhea infections may be higher than what was reported because many cases of gonorrhea are asymptomatic, meaning people do not know they are infected.This is why regular STI testing is so important.

This article will explain the long-term side effects of gonorrhea, including complications for both men and women, short-term symptoms, and how to prevent and treat gonorrhea.

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Long-Term Side Effects of Gonorrhea

Left untreated, gonorrhea can cause a host of complications, some of which can be long term. While long-term effects will vary based on someone's sex, both men and women can get disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI), which occurs when the infection spreads to the bloodstream.

Complications for Women

A serious complication of untreated gonorrhea for women is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is an infection of the fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix.

If PID is not addressed, it can cause permanent damage to the reproductive tract. This damage may even cause infertility and long-term pelvic pain.

Complications for Men

Complications of untreated gonorrhea for men include epididymitis, a condition that causes inflammation of the epididymis. Symptoms of epididymitis include fever, scrotal pain, and swelling.

Short-Term Symptoms

Gonorrhea often presents without symptoms. If a person does experience symptoms from gonorrhea, they may appear as little as one day after exposure to within two weeks.

For men, short-term symptoms include:

  • Penile discharge
  • Burning and/or painful urination
  • Testicular swelling

For women, short-term symptoms include:

  • Vaginal discharge
  • Burning and/or painful urination
  • Bleeding between periods

Preventing Gonorrhea

In order to prevent gonorrhea, the CDC recommends using latex condoms, abstaining from sex, or being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with someone who has previously been tested.


Gonorrhea is most commonly treated with antibiotics. However, gonorrhea is experiencing an increase in antibiotic resistance. This means that treatments for this STI are becoming less effective.

In 2021, the CDC updated STI treatment guidelines and recommends a single intramuscular dose of Rocephin (ceftriaxone) to address antibiotic resistance concerns in gonorrhea cases. The exact dosage of medication depends on a person's weight.


Gonorrhea is a common STI caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium. Many cases of gonorrhea are asymptomatic. If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause complications in both men and women. Preventing the spread of gonorrhea includes safe sex best practices such as using latex condoms and getting regular STI testing.

A Word From Verywell

Gonorrhea is a common STI that often presents without symptoms. Because of this, many cases of gonorrhea go untreated and, therefore, can cause a number of serious complications. This is why it is so important to be open and honest with your healthcare provider and get regular STI testing if you are sexually active.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take for gonorrhea to cause damage?

    While gonorrhea often has no symptoms, damage from this STI can still occur. Complications from untreated gonorrhea include pelvic inflammatory disease or epididymitis. Early treatment can help prevent such complications.

  • Can gonorrhea be dormant for 20 years?

    No. Gonorrhea symptoms will show up within one to 14 days following exposure.

  • Can gonorrhea symptoms appear years later?

    No. Gonorrhea is most often asymptomatic. If symptoms are to appear, they will show up within one to 14 days following exposure. However, because most infections present without symptoms, complications due to the infection may appear years later.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. Sexually transmitted disease surveillance 2020.

  2. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. Gonorrhea – CDC detailed fact sheet.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health alert template for disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI).

  4. Stanford Health Care. Complications from gonorrhea.

  5. Tshokey T, Tshering T, Pradhan AR, et al. Antibiotic resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoea and treatment outcomes of gonococcal urethritis suspected patients in two large hospitals in Bhutan, 2015PLOS ONE. 2018;13(8):e0201721.

  6. Workowski KA, Bachmann LH, Chan PA, et al. Sexually transmitted infections treatment guidelinesMMWR Recomm Rep. 2021;70(4):1-187. doi:10.15585/mmwr.rr7004a1

By Molly Burford
Molly Burford is a mental health advocate and wellness book author with almost 10 years of experience in digital media.