Can You Die from Gonorrhea?

Are you suspecting you have gonorrhea and wondering if it's a fatal condition? Similar to other STDs, gonorrhea affects the genitals. A common sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria known as neisseria gonorrhoeae, gonorrhea attacks mucous membranes within the reproductive organs. In men, gonorrhea affects the urethra while in women it affects the urethra, the cervix, the uterus and the fallopian tubes. Gonorrhea can also affect the mucous membranes of other organs of the body, including the rectum, eyes, mouth and throat. In the U.S. alone, about 820,000 new cases are diagnosed every year.

Can You Die from Gonorrhea?

Gonorrhea responds well to treatment with antibiotics. But in recent times, gonorrhea resistance to antibiotics has increased. If left untreated, gonorrhea gets worse and presents with more symptoms, but is unlikely to lead to death. Only one percent of gonorrhea cases advance to life threatening status.

The symptoms of gonorrhea in men include redness and swelling at the opening of the penis, pus-like drip from the penis, and pain around the testicle areas. The symptoms in women include abnormal vaginal discharge, burning sensation while urinating, cramps in the lower abdomen, and pain during intercourse. 

You can reduce your risk of contracting gonorrhea by using condoms during sexual intercourse. However, to truly avoid gonorrhea, abstain from sex or stick to only one sex partner who has been tested and confirmed to be free from gonorrhea.

What Would Happen If Gonorrhea Is Left Untreated?

1. Complications in Women

Can you die from gonorrhea if left untreated? For women, untreated gonorrhea can lead to the following complications:

  • Chronic pain in the pelvic region
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease(PID) which increases the risk of infertility
  • Inflammation of Bartholin gland
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Ovarian abscess
  • Fitz-Hugh-Curtis syndrome–a rare complication of PID

2. Effects on Pregnancy

Untreated gonorrhea in pregnant women can lead to the following problems:

  • Miscarriage
  • Premature labor
  • Premature rupture of mucous membranes (PROM) leading to amniotic fluid leakage
  • Endometritis (infection of the interior lining of the uterus)

Even when a woman with untreated gonorrhea carries her pregnancy to full term, her newborn baby has a high chance of getting infected. This will lead to long-term complications for mother and baby.

3. Influence on Newborns

A newborn baby of a woman with untreated gonorrhea has a high risk of getting the following gonorrhea complications:

  • Arthritis–joint inflammation
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Scalp infection
  • Blood sepsis–infection within the bloodstream
  • Meningitis–infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord

4. Complications in Men

Untreated gonorrhea in men can lead to the following complications:

  • Prostatitis–inflammation of the prostate gland
  • Epididymis–infection and inflammation of the epididymis

5. Other Complications

If you are still wondering "can you die from gonorrhea", you don't need to worry since it's usually not fatal, but untreated gonorrhea can spread to other organs outside the genital area such as the skin, joints, heart and blood. This leads to disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI), causing complications such as:

  • Cellulitis–skin infection
  • Fever
  • Blood sepsis
  • Arthritis–joint inflammation
  • Meningitis
  • Endocarditis–inflammation of heart valves

Unlike men, most women don't get early symptoms of gonorrhea. This means that women are more likely to suffer from gonorrhea complications as the infection may go untreated longer, thus spreading to many parts of the body. It is worth to note that one infection with gonorrhea, no matter treated or not, offers no protection against future infections.

How to Treat Gonorrhea

Treatment of gonorrhea is done using antibiotics. If this is done early in the course of infection, gonorrhea has no long-term effects. Treatment for gonorrhea is given as follows:

  • To a person who tests positive for gonorrhea
  • An infected woman's newborn baby
  • A person who, in the last 60 days, has had sex with person who tests positive for gonorrhea irrespective of whether the person has symptoms, or has used condoms
  • When multiple doses of antibiotics are prescribed, they should be taken as directed. Failure to follow this could make the infection remain uncured.
  • Abstain from sex when you are on treatment until you and your partner have been fully cured.
  • In case of a single dose treatment, wait for seven days before sexual intercourse.

What to Do If Your Symptoms Don't Improve

If you have undergone treatment and the symptoms remain, the question on your mind could be "can you die from gonorrhea?" The reason you are not yet cured could be that you are having a re-infection, the treatment fails, or you have gonorrhea that is resistant to the prescribed antibiotics. Some strains of gonorrhea bacteria have developed resistance to common antibiotics including penicillin, tetracycline, quinolones and sulfa. If symptoms remain after undergoing treatment for gonorrhea, you may need to be retested using a culture of the causative bacteria to determine the best treatment for your case.

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