What is a gonorrhea test?
Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It is a bacterial infection spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex with an infected person. It can also be spread from a pregnant woman to her baby during childbirth. Gonorrhea can infect both men and women. It is most common in young people, aged 15–24.
Many people with gonorrhea don’t know they have it. So they may spread it to others without knowing it. Men with gonorrhea may have some symptoms. But women often have no symptoms or mistake gonorrhea symptoms for a bladder or vaginal infection.
A gonorrhea test looks for the presence of gonorrhea bacteria in your body. The disease can be cured with antibiotics. But if it’s not treated, gonorrhea can lead to infertility and other serious health problems. In women, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that develops outside the uterus, where a baby can’t survive. If not treated promptly, ectopic pregnancy can be fatal to the mother.
In men, gonorrhea can cause painful urination and scarring of the urethra. The urethra is a tube that allows urine to flow from the bladder to the outside of the body and also carries semen. In men, this tube runs through the penis.
Other names: GC test, gonorrhea DNA probe test, gonorrhea nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT)
What is it used for?
A gonorrhea test is used to find out whether you have a gonorrhea infection. It’s sometimes done along with a test for chlamydia, another type of sexually transmitted disease (STD). Gonorrhea and chlamydia have similar symptoms, and the two STDs often occur together.
Why do I need a gonorrhea test?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends yearly gonorrhea tests for all sexually active women under the age of 25. It is also recommended for sexually active older women with certain risk factors. Risk factors include:
- Having multiple sex partners
- Previous gonorrhea infection
- Having other STDs
- Having a sex partner with an STD
- Not using condoms consistently or correctly
The CDC recommends yearly testing for men who have sex with men. Testing is not recommended for heterosexual men with no symptoms.
Both men and women should be tested if they have symptoms of gonorrhea.
Symptoms for women include:
Symptoms for men include:
- Pain or tenderness in the testicles
- Swollen scrotum
- Pain when urinating
- White, yellow, or greenish discharge from the penis
If you are pregnant, you may get a gonorrhea test early in your pregnancy. A pregnant woman with gonorrhea can pass the infection to her baby during delivery. Gonorrhea can cause blindness and other serious, sometimes life-threatening, complications in infants. If you are pregnant and have gonorrhea, you can be treated with an antibiotic that is safe for you and your child.
What happens during a gonorrhea test?
If you are a woman, a sample may be taken from your cervix. For this procedure, you will lie on your back on an exam table, with your knees bent. You will rest your feet in supports called stirrups. Your health care provider will use a plastic or metal instrument called a speculum to open the vagina, so the cervix can be seen. Your provider will then use a soft brush or plastic spatula to collect the sample.
If you are a man, your provider may take a swab from the opening of your urethra.
For both men and women, a sample may be taken from a suspected area of infection, such as the mouth or rectum. Urine tests are also used for both men and women.
Some gonorrhea tests can be done with an at-home STD test kit. If your health care provider recommends at-home testing, be sure to follow all directions carefully.
Your health care provider may order tests for other STDs when you get a gonorrhea test. These may include tests for chlamydia, syphilis, and/or HIV.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
If you are a woman, you may be asked to avoid using douches or vaginal creams for 24 hours before your test. For a urine test, both men and women should not urinate 1–2 hours before the sample is collected.
Are there any risks to the test?
There are no known risks to having a gonorrhea test. Women may feel some mild discomfort during a swab test of the cervix. Afterward, you may have a little bleeding or other vaginal discharge.
What do the results mean?
Your results will be given as negative, also called normal, or positive, also called abnormal.
Negative/Normal: No gonorrhea bacteria were found. If you have certain symptoms, you may get additional STD tests to find out the cause.
Positive/Abnormal: You are infected with the gonorrhea bacteria. You will be treated with antibiotics to cure the infection. Be sure to take all the required doses. Antibiotic treatment should stop the infection, but some types of gonorrhea bacteria are becoming resistant (less effective or ineffective) to certain antibiotics. If your symptoms don’t improve after treatment, your health care provider may order a “susceptibility test.” A susceptibility test is used to help determine which antibiotic will be most effective in treating your infection.
Regardless of your treatment, be sure to let your sex partner know if you have tested positive for gonorrhea. That way, he or she can be tested and treated promptly.
If you have questions about your results, talk to your health care provider.
Is there anything else I need to know about a gonorrhea test?
The best way to prevent infection with gonorrhea or other STD is to not have sex. If you are sexually active, you can reduce your risk of infection by:
- Being in a long-term relationship with one partner who has tested negative for STDs
- Using condoms correctly every time you have sex