What is a gonorrhea test?
Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It is a bacterial infection. Anyone can get gonorrhea if they have vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who has the infection. The bacteria often infect the genitals, but it can infect the rectum, throat, eyes, and other parts of the body.
A gonorrhea test looks for signs of gonorrhea bacteria in a sample of fluid from your body. The fluid used depends on the type of gonorrhea test and where the infection may be. Samples may include:
- Urine (pee)
- Fluid that's swabbed from the part of your body that may be infected, including the:
- Urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body in males and females)
- Cervix (lower part of the uterus)
- Rectum (the last part of your intestine that connects to the anus)
Gonorrhea often has no symptoms, so you may spread it to others without even knowing you have the infection. If a pregnant person has gonorrhea, they can give the infection to the baby during childbirth. In babies, the disease usually affects the eyes.
Gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics. But if it's not treated, it can lead to serious health problems:
- In the female reproductive system gonorrhea can cause:
- In the male reproductive system gonorrhea can cause:
- Pain in the testicles
- Infertility (uncommon)
- Blood infection, which can be life-threatening
- In babies, gonorrhea can cause blindness, joint infections, or life-threatening blood infections.
A gonorrhea test can help you catch the disease early so you can get treatment before you develop lasting health problems or spread it to others.
Other names: GC test, gonorrhea DNA probe test, gonorrhea nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), GC culture
What is it used for?
A gonorrhea test is used to:
- Screen for a gonorrhea infection when you don't have symptoms but may have been exposed to the bacteria
- Diagnose or rule out gonorrhea when you have symptoms
Gonorrhea testing is often done with a test for chlamydia, another type of sexually transmitted disease. That's because gonorrhea and chlamydia have similar symptoms, and it's common to have both infections at the same time. You may also be tested for syphilis and/or HIV.
Why do I need a gonorrhea test?
If you're sexually active, you may need regular testing if your risk of gonorrhea is high. Gonorrhea is a very common STD, especially in sexually active people between ages 15 and 24. But it often doesn't cause symptoms. So, medical experts recommend routine screening tests for people who are sexually active and are more likely to be exposed to gonorrhea.
You should get tested for gonorrhea at least every year if you:
- Are a woman or transgender or gender diverse person with a cervix (lower part of the uterus) who is:
- Younger than age of 25 and having sex
- Age 25 or older with a higher risk of getting gonorrhea because you:
- Have a new sex partner or more than one partner
- Have a sex partner who has sex with others
- Have a sex partner who has an STD
- Don't use condoms correctly every time
- Are a man who has sex with men (MSM)
- Are a transgender or gender diverse person with a penis who has sex with men
- Have HIV
If you are pregnant and younger than age 25, you should have a gonorrhea test early in your pregnancy. If you are older than age 25, ask your health care provider if you need to be tested.
If you are a heterosexual (straight) man with no symptoms and a low risk for infection, testing for gonorrhea isn't recommended.
Your need for testing depends on your personal risk for getting gonorrhea. Some people may need to be tested more than once a year. So, ask your provider what's best for you.
If you're sexually active and have symptoms, you need a test to diagnose or rule out gonorrhea. The symptoms of gonorrhea depend on where the infection is. Symptoms include:
- An unusual discharge (fluid) from the genitals (vagina or penis)
- Pain or burning when urinating (peeing)
- Rectal symptoms, such as:
- Anal discharge and itching
- Painful bowel movements
- Pain in the lower abdomen (belly)
- Sore throat (uncommon)
- Vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods
- Pain, tenderness, or swelling in the testicles or scrotum
- Eye symptoms, such as:
- Pain and/or itching
- Sensitivity to light
- Pus-like fluid that drains from one or both eyes
What happens during a gonorrhea test?
To do a gonorrhea test, you will need to provide a sample of fluid from the part of your body that may be infected. There are two ways to gather the sample:
- A first-catch urine sample. You use a sterile cup to a collect urine from the very first part of your urine stream. To get an accurate test result, you will need to stop urinating for two hours before the test.
- A swab sample. Your provider will use a special swab or brush to gather fluid and cells, usually from the genital area (the urethra or the vagina). In certain cases, the rectum, cervix, throat, or eyes may be swabbed. Your provider may give you the option to swab yourself following special instructions.
Some types of gonorrhea tests can be done with an at-home STD test kit. The kit includes a container for collecting a urine sample to send to a lab for testing. Ask your provider if at-home testing is right for you.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
Your provider will tell you how to prepare for your test. If you use antibiotics, let your provider know. For a urine test, you may need to avoid urinating for two hours before the test. If you have a cervical or vaginal swab, you may to avoid vaginal douches or creams for a day before the test.
Are there any risks to the test?
There are no known risks to having a gonorrhea test. You may feel brief discomfort if you have a swab sample taken from the cervix or inside the urethra at the tip of the penis. A cervical swab may cause a little vaginal bleeding or other discharge.
What do the results mean?
- A negative (or normal) test result means that a gonorrhea infection wasn't found in your sample. But it doesn't rule out gonorrhea. After you are infected with gonorrhea, it may take weeks before you test positive. So, it's possible that the test was taken too soon after your exposure to the bacteria.
- A positive (or abnormal) test result means that you are infected with the gonorrhea bacteria. You will need treatment with antibiotics right away. You will also need to tell your sex partner or partners so that they can be tested and treated if necessary.
To make sure your infection is cured, take all your medicine following your provider's instructions. Some types of gonorrhea bacteria are becoming resistant to certain antibiotics. This means that the bacteria have "learned" how to survive those antibiotics, so the medicines no longer work.
If your symptoms don't improve after treatment, your provider may order an antibiotic "susceptibility test." This test can show which antibiotic will work best to clear up your infection.
If you have questions about your results, talk with your provider.
Learn more about laboratory tests, reference ranges, and understanding results.
Is there anything else I need to know about a gonorrhea test?
The best way to prevent gonorrhea and other STDs is not to have sex. If you are sexually active, you can reduce your risk of infection by:
- Having sex with one partner who has tested negative for STDs and has sex only with you
- Using condoms correctly every time you have sex
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