Untreated gonorrhea can result in serious medical complications for men and women, including sterility. The more advanced a case of gonorrhea has become in a patient, the more likely the patient is to experience significant complications. Because gonorrhea does not always cause symptoms, it is advisable for sexually active people to receive regular screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in order to identify infections like gonorrhea early, so they can be treated before they cause serious problems. A course of antibiotics is usually sufficient to kill the organisms that cause this infection.
One of the most common results of untreated gonorrhea in women is a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease, caused by chronic, widespread inflammation of the structures in the pelvis. This condition can cause painful menstruation, miscarriage, infertility, and ectopic pregnancies, where a fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. Men can experience similar inflammation of the prostate, urethra, and other structures around the genitals.
It is also possible for gonorrhea to travel through the body in the bloodstream. Patients can experience a rare condition called perihepatitis, where the sac around the liver becomes inflamed. They can also develop disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI), also known as gonococcal arthritis, where the infection spreads to structures like the joints, heart, and brain. These conditions can cause potentially fatal complications for the patient.
Patients with untreated gonorrhea are also at increased risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. The organisms can also infect the eye, causing conjunctivitis and other problems. In pregnant women, it is possible for babies to contract gonorrhea during delivery. This can lead to blindness and a risk of DGI in the infant. Prophylactic care can be provided during labor and delivery to reduce the risks of passing gonorrhea to the child.
Once complications from untreated gonorrhea set in, it can be much more difficult to treat. While antibiotics can kill the organisms in the body, the damage caused by inflammation and infection is not so easy to repair. Patients may experience chronic health problems including infertility. Being proactive about sexual health can greatly reduce the risk of developing permanent medical complications from untreated gonorrhea, by catching the infection before it has an opportunity to spread. Safer sex practices will also help limit the chances of contracting sexually transmitted infections in the first place. This is important, as not all STIs can be treated as easily as gonorrhea.